This post was contributed by Adam R. Long, an Attorney in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor & Employment Practice Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In a 9-0 decision issued yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that time spent by non-exempt workers waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings before leaving their workplace at the end of their work day was not compensable hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, the plaintiffs were hourly warehouse employees required to submit to a security screening before leaving the warehouse at the end of each day. The plaintiffs claimed that they spent approximately 25 minutes each day waiting for and undergoing the security screening, which required them to remove their wallets, keys, and belts before passing through a metal detector.
The Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 amended the FLSA to exempt from compensable hours worked any time spent on "activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to" an employee’s principal activity or activities. Prior Supreme Court decisions established that "principal activity or activities" included all activities that are an "integral and indispensable part of the principal activities."
Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Thomas applied existing Court precedent to conclude that the post-shift security screenings at issue were noncompensable postliminary activities. Specifically, Justice Thomas explained that the screenings were neither the warehouse workers’ principal activity nor "integral and indispensable" to their job duties of retrieving products from shelves or packing them for shipment.
In reversing the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s focus on the fact that the employer required the screenings. Instead, the proper analysis is whether the activity at issue is "tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform."
The Court made clear that an activity is "integral and indispensable" to an employee’s principal activities only "if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities." Because post-shift security screenings do not meet that test, the plaintiffs’ FLSA claims failed.
Claims for unpaid hours worked by non-exempt employees are a growing and significant source of class-based FLSA claims. Going forward, employers can feel confident that pre-shift and post-shift security screenings will not be a source of liability. That said, employers still should ensure that their time records accurately capture all hours worked by non-exempt employees. Many sources of potential class-based liability still exist for "off-the-clock" work, including remote access to employer computer networks and e-mail, work during unpaid breaks, and travel time. While the Integrity Staffing Solutions decision is welcome news for many employers, the "off-the-clock" work issue remains a real and significant concern for the unwary employer.