• Supreme Court Clarifies Work Day Boundaries
  • November 22, 2005
  • Law Firm: Thompson Hine LLP - Cleveland Office
  • In the first case of the Chief Justice Roberts era, the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified the compensable limits of the work day. In IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, the Court focused on the time IBP employees spend walking from one area to another in a large industrial facility before the employees actually begin work on the production line, finding this travel time to be compensable.

    Previously, the Court established that employees must be compensated for the time spent putting on and taking off ("donning" and "doffing") protective equipment, such as the chain link metal aprons, vests, Plexiglas arm guards, and special gloves worn by IBP's meat cutters. The Court's rationale was that the activities were "integral and indispensable" to the meat cutters' "principal activity." The issue before the Court in IBP was whether employees should be paid for time spent walking between the location where they put on their protective equipment and the location where they began cutting meat, and for the return trip at the end of the work day. In finding the travel time compensable, the Court reasoned that once an employee performs a principal work activity (here, donning protective equipment), the work day commences and subsequent travel to the production line must be compensated. On the other hand, the Court held that time spent traveling to the location where the protective equipment is donned and time spent waiting to put on the protective equipment was not compensable because the employees had not yet performed a principal activity.

    The Court also acknowledged that ordinary clothes changing, washing, or the "donning and doffing of hard hats, ear plugs, safety glasses, boots [or] hair nets" would ordinarily not signal the beginning of the work day because these less-involved activities were considered "de minimus," that is, too insignificant to count.

    In reaching its decision, the Court also reiterated the long-standing principle embodied in the Portal-to-Portal Act that travel to the work site, prior to beginning the work of the day, is generally not compensable. However, after an employee begins performing one of the principal activities of his or her job, any subsequent travel during the day is generally compensable. For example, after an employee collects tools or meets to plan the work day at one location, travel to another location is generally compensable.