Security Screening Time Not Compensable, Supreme Court Rules

By Joanne Deschenaux Dec 10, 2014
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Warehouse workers are not entitled to compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for time they spend going through a security check after their shift ends, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Dec. 9, 2014 (Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, No. 13-433).

The court was reviewing a decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that Integrity Staffing Solutions, which provides workers for warehouses that fill orders, may be required to pay warehouse employees for the time they spend emptying their pockets and passing through metal detectors before leaving the warehouse.

In April 2013, the 9th Circuit had reversed a district court’s dismissal of an FLSA collective action filed by two former Integrity employees who had been assigned to a Nevada warehouse. The appellate court ruled that, because the post-shift security screenings are entirely for the employer’s benefit, the workers may be entitled to pay for the up to 25 minutes they sometimes wait to get through the security checkpoint. The high court agreed on March 3, 2014, to hear the case, and oral argument was held on Oct. 8, 2014.

Prior to this case, the “integral and indispensable” standard had been applied in only two security screening cases, one in the 2nd Circuit and one in the 11th Circuit. In both instances, the court of appeals held that undergoing the screening did not constitute working time. Here, however, in reaching its conclusion that the employees’ claim could proceed under the FLSA, the 9th Circuit concluded that, because the screening process was “necessary to the principal work performed” and “done for the benefit of the employer,” it constituted compensable working time.

Screening Not ‘Integral’ Part of Job

The high court reversed the 9th Circuit’s decision and reached the same conclusion reached by the other federal appeals courts that had ruled on the issue. The justices unanimously ruled that such screening procedures were not an “integral” part of the job.

“We hold that an activity is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform—and thus compensable under the FLSA—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,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. “Because the employees’ time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing Integrity Staffing’s security screenings does not meet these criteria, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.”

The screenings didn’t qualify as principal activities, Thomas wrote, pointing out that Integrity didn’t employ workers to pass through security checks, but rather to retrieve products from shelves and package them for shipment to Amazon customers.

The screenings also didn’t qualify as integral and indispensable to the warehouse workers’ duties, Thomas added, noting that they could have been eliminated without compromising the employees’ ability to do their jobs.

Narrow Decision

Although this is a pro-business decision, employers need to remember that it is a narrow decision, Bill Nolan, an attorney at Barnes & Thornburg in Columbus, Ohio, told SHRM Online. “The court is saying that ‘this is the test we use, and this is how we apply it.’

“There are probably not a lot of employers who are now paying for something they can stop paying for” because of this decision, he said. However, “employers should not take this to mean that they don’t need to stay on top of activities before or after the clock has run and whether or not they need to be compensated,” he added. “Employers still need to analyze their practices and make sure they are doing things the right way.”

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is SHRM’s senior legal editor.

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