U.S. Supreme Court Rules Time Spent by Employees in Mandatory Security Screenings is Not Compensable under the FLSA
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on December 9, 2014, that the time employees spend undergoing security screenings, and the time spent waiting to undergo such screenings, is not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, No. 13-433, 574 U.S. ___ (2104), clarifies the standard employers should use when deciding whether to compensate employees for activities before and after the workday.
This case began as a wage dispute between Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc., a vendor providing warehouse staffing to Amazon.com, and two hourly Integrity employees who retrieved products from the shelves and packaged them for shipment to Amazon customers. All Integrity employees were required to submit to security screenings before leaving the warehouse at the end of each day to curb employee theft; the screenings lasted approximately 25 minutes daily, and required employees to remove personal items, such as wallets and keys, and pass through metal detectors.
The employees alleged that they were entitled to compensation under the FLSA for the time they spent waiting for and undergoing the security screenings because the screenings were mandatory and done for the benefit of their employer.
The Supreme Court disagreed. Reversing the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the Court held that the time spent waiting for and undergoing security screenings was not compensable time under the FLSA because the screenings were not an intrinsic element of the duties employees were hired to perform.
Under the FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act, employees are not entitled to compensation for activities that are preliminary to or postliminary to the principal activities the employee is employed to perform. (Preliminary and postliminary activities are those that occur before or after the workday when the principal activities of employment are performed.) Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas noted that the Court has consistently interpreted principal activities to include all activities that are an “integral and indispensable part” of the principal activities of employment. An activity is integral and indispensable, Justice Thomas continued, if it is an “intrinsic element” of the principal activities and one that the employee could not dispense with and still perform his or her principal activities effectively and safely.
Applying these principles, the Court held that the security screenings of Integrity Staffing employees were postliminary activities, and therefore not compensable. The Court reasoned that the employees were not hired principally to submit to security screenings, but to retrieve and pack products for shipment. Nor were these screenings integral or indispensable to the employees’ principal activities because they were not an intrinsic element of retrieving or packing merchandise, nor necessary for the performance of those duties. Further, the Court noted that Integrity could, if it wished, eliminate the screenings completely without limiting the employee’s ability to complete their work safely and efficiently. In addition, the Court held that the mandatory nature of the screenings was irrelevant to the question whether an activity was compensable or an intrinsic element of the job.
It is important to review your timekeeping and overtime policies for non-exempt employees to ensure they are in compliance with this ruling. If you have any questions about this, or any other aspect of the Court’s decision, please contact John P. Keil at (212) 758-7862, or any other attorney at the Firm.
Amanda M. Baker, an associate with the Firm, assisted in the preparation of this article.