• Employers Must Pay Employees Required to Wear Protective Gear for Time Spent Walking Between Changing Area and Production Area
  • November 22, 2005 | Author: Michael W. Droke
  • Law Firm: Dorsey & Whitney LLP - Seattle Office
  • The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously expanded compensable time for employees who must wear protective gear. Employees must now be compensated for time spent walking from the changing area where protective gear is put on, to the production area where work is performed.

    • The change in the law may have implications for any employer whose employees must put on protective clothing on the employer's premises before work.
    • Compliance with the new law is mandatory. Non-compliance exposes employers to risk of class-action lawsuits likely to result in large adverse verdicts.

    After publication of Upton Sinclair's 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle, certain industries received legislative attention, particularly in the areas of employee safety and related pay practices. Since 1956 employers have been required under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to pay employees for the time spent putting on and taking off unique protective gear. (Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U.S. 247 (1956).) In IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, decided on November 8, 2005, the Court dealt another blow to employers. In a precedent-driven decision, and the first appeal over which newly appointed Chief Justice Roberts presided, the Supreme Court unanimously expanded compensable time under the FLSA to include the time spent walking from the changing area where protective gear is put on, to the production area where work is performed.

    IBP is a large producer of fresh beef, pork and related products. Production workers' pay is based on the time spent cutting and bagging meat, and pay begins with the first piece of meat and ends with the last piece of meat. IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez involved a class action by IBP employees to recover compensation for preproduction and postproduction work, including the time spent donning and doffing protective gear and walking between the locker rooms and the production floor before and after their assigned shifts.

    This ruling is not unique to the meat production industry. The change in the law may have practical implications for any employer whose employees are required to put on protective clothing on the employer's premises before they engage in the work for which they are primarily employed. Compliance with this change in the law is a clear-cut requirement. As a result, such non-compliance exposes employers to undue risk of class action lawsuits likely to result in large adverse verdicts.