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Are employers required to pay employees for the time employees spend putting on their uniforms or protective gear before the start of their shift?

It depends. Employers have to compensate employees for the time spent putting on uniforms or protective gear if it is integral to performing the “principal activities” of the job. Although specific circumstances may vary, if employees are required by the employer, by law or by the nature of the work to change clothes on the employer’s premises, that activity is generally considered integral to the principal activity, therefore resulting in “hours worked.” For example, if an employee in a chemical plant cannot perform his principal activities without putting on certain clothes at the plant, changing clothes on the employer’s premises at the beginning and end of the workday would be an integral part of the employee’s principal activity. However, putting on hard hats, ear plugs, safety glasses, boots or hairnets is not a preliminary activity that is integral to the principal activity and would not be “hours worked.” In a case often referred to, IBP v. Alvarez, 126 S.Ct. 514 (2005), the Supreme Court ruled that “donning and “doffing” protective gear at a poultry processing plant was a principal activity of the job and compensable as hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA hours worked regulations regarding preparatory and concluding activities also provide more guidance. 

Because the time spent putting on uniforms or protective gear is specific to an employer and a matter of fact and circumstances, many employers will implement the following activities to facilitate good-faith compliance with the law:

  • Train front-line managers and staff about activities that are compensable and considered hours worked under the FLSA and Portal-to-Portal Act. Employers should also verify that their training includes examples of all preparatory activities considered to be “on the clock” and preliminary to the principal activities of a given job.
  • Review and update their time-keeping processes and policies to eliminate further confusion.
  • Provide staff with examples of the organization’s unique and protective gear standards in accordance with its industry or government safety regulations.


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