Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When Is Putting on Clothing Compensable Time?

The Supreme Court has agreed to take on an issue that bedevils a number of manufacturing operations that require employees to change into safety gear, including protective clothing, before beginning work.

Typically, time spent on changing clothes is considered a so-called "principal activity" when the use of protective clothing or safety gear is an integral or indispensable part of the job. Employee time spent on principal activities is compensable as part of the workday under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

But the Act allows a unionized employer to exclude this time from compensable time if the exclusion is negotiated as part of a collective-bargaining agreement. Litigation has now developed over what constitutes "changing clothes" for purposes of this negotiated exclusion. As noted in a previous posting, some employees have argued that donning required safety equipment such as protective boots, head coverings, etc., does not constitute changing clothes under the Act, and therefore cannot be excluded from compensable time even if negotiated away by the union.

The Supreme Court decision has important implications for other industries where so-called "donning and doffing" issues exist, even without the union context. I'll follow with an update when this case is decided.

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