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This blog post was authored by James E. Oldendorph Jr.

On December 9, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that workers need not be paid for the time spent waiting to and actually undergoing security screenings while leaving their work facility.  (Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk (Dec. 9, 2014, No. 13-433.)  This decision reverses the judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (“Integrity Staffing”) provides warehouse space and staffing to companies such as Amazon.com.  In order to prevent theft, Integrity Staffing required its warehouse workers who retrieved and packaged orders for Amazon customers to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse each day.  Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro were Integrity Staffing employees who worked in warehouses in Nevada.  In 2010, they sued Integrity Staffing seeking back pay and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for the time spent passing through these security screenings.  They alleged that they spent up to 25 minutes each day waiting to be searched, removing their wallets, keys, and belts, and passing through metal detectors.

Under the FLSA, activities that are preliminary or postliminary to the principal activity or activities that the employee is employed to perform are generally not compensable.  But preliminary and postliminary activities are compensable if they are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal activities.  Despite countless lawsuits regarding these issues, courts have inconsistently interpreted these terms and what is required to be paid work time under the FLSA.

Here, the Ninth Circuit had focused on the fact that the company required its employees to pass through these security screenings.  And, because the screenings benefited the employer by preventing theft, the Court of Appeals concluded that the screenings were indispensable to the employees’ work activities.  Last week, the Supreme Court disagreed and held that Integrity Staffing’s security screenings were postliminary activities and not required to be paid.

The Supreme Court focused on two factors.  First, the security screenings were not the principal activity which the employees were employed to perform.  The company employed the workers to retrieve items and ship orders to Amazon customers – not to undergo security screenings.

Second, the screenings were not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ job duties as warehouse workers.  That is, the employees could still perform their job duties even if the company stopped conducting the screenings.  The Court noted that the FLSA analysis should be focused on whether the activities are tied to productive work, and not whether the employer requires the activity.

The employees argued that Integrity Staffing could have reduced the wait time by having more security screening lines or staggering the times employees got off of work.  But the Court found that these arguments are better suited for the collective bargaining table rather than an FLSA court case.

While this decision has limited applicability to most public employers who have very limited, if any, security screenings, this ruling does provide insight as to what is truly considered compensable work time.  In determining what pre and post-shift activities should be paid, employers should focus on whether the activity is indispensable and integral to the productive work the employee is hired to perform, and not on what the employer requires or whether the activity benefits the employer.

FLSA lawsuits are still on the rise and these cases are very fact-specific.  Employers should contact legal counsel before applying these rulings to their specific work situations.