Should Utah Employees be paid for putting on protective gear?

Should I be paid for my time of putting on my protective gear and taking it off? And what about the time I spend waiting to get my protective gear from the company?

By Greg Smith posted in Wage & Hour Claims on Friday, June 26, 2015

These matters were decided by meat and poultry workers back in 2005, and their case essentially overruled the old law the governed the federal courts in Utah.

In that case, the United States Supreme Court ruled 1) the time spent by meat processing plant employees walking between locker rooms and production areas after they had put on their special safety gear in the locker rooms had to be counted as work-time (payable time).

They also ruled 2) the time poultry plant employees spent waiting to remove their protective clothes was also time that an employer needed to pay for.

And 3) the time the poultry plant employees spent waiting to put on their protective gear at the “start of the work day” was not time the employer had to pay for. So, get yourself to work, and expect to be paid as soon as you start putting on your work gear until you’ve taken it off. Consult an attorney for more information at 801-651-1512, and read IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21 (2005).

Courts have a funny way with words, which is partly because they must be so very careful with them. At times it looks like they are asked “to strain at gnats”, but that straining can result in payments and fines of millions of dollars. And so often, those million-dollar rulings turn on the mere definition of a single word, like the word “work.” What is work? Hmmm. That’s a bit tricky.

Most people just show up at work, then throw on things such as a lab coat, gloves and safety goggles. It’s easy to do, and usually only takes about ten seconds or so. No big deal, right? After all, getting dressed does really require a person “to exert” himself. Well, multiply that by 10,000 employees over two years. Suddenly, the employer has a big deal on his hands if the court says he should have paid all those employees for all that “getting dressed” time – especially if he must now pay all those employees for that time, and pay it double! The double payment is called “liquidated damages,” and courts usually order that the employee pay them.

For many courts, employees do not “put on” then “take off” their gear, rather, they “don” then “doff” it. And according to the law, the “donning and doffing of all protective gear [is] compensable worktime.” The word “compensable” means the employer must pay the employee for that time, in other words, it’s “payable time.” Eleven years after Alvarez was decided, the Supreme Court stated that time spent by employees waiting for and undergoing security screenings before leaving workplace was not compensable (payable) under the law (FLSA). Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 135 S. Ct. 513 (2014).

The word “work,” as used in the FLSA (the federal law that says people must be paid overtime and minimum wage), includes even “non-exertional acts.” That means that an employee must be paid for work – even for super easy work (like throwing on a coat, gloves and goggles). Courts have stated that “exertion” is not the sine qua non of “work.” There we go, three funny words in a row! “Sine qua non” simply means a “main part” of something. In other words, an employer may hire a man to do literally nothing, to just stare at a rock, or to do nothing but wait for something to happen. But, it’s pretty clear that the “donning and doffing” of a special uniform, or various types of safety gear, can be work.

To make sense of all this, contact us at 801-651-1512.

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