Unanimous Victory for Employers: Supreme Court Concludes Security Checks Not Compensable Under the FLSA

Authored by David P. Frenzia

Dec 12, 2014

On Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers do not have to pay employees for time spent undergoing security screenings at the end of their workday. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, a warehousing contractor for Amazon, were not entitled to be paid for time waiting to undergo, and undergoing, security screenings to prevent employee theft.

In doing so, the Court rejected the employees’ argument that the time spent (roughly 25 minutes each day) could have been reduced to a de minimis amount by adding more security screenings or staggering shifts so employees could more quickly move through the security checkpoint. The Court also rejected the employees’ argument that the time was compensable because the screenings were aimed at preventing employee theft and, therefore, occurred “solely for the benefit of the employers and their customers.”

In reaching its decision, and reversing the contrary conclusion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court interpreted the Portal-to-Portal Act. The Court ruled that security screenings were exempted as “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to” employees’ principal activity. The Court explained the security screenings were not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ principal work (i.e., retrieving or packaging products). In fact, the Court pointed out that the employer could have eliminated the screenings entirely and it would not have affected or impaired the employees’ ability to perform their job duties.

The Court of Appeals concluded the activity was compensable by focusing on whether the employer required a particular activity. But, the Supreme Court rejected this view, noting that if the test was whether a particular activity was “required” by an employer, the exemption for preliminary and postliminary activities would be swallowed whole. Likewise, the fact that the employer could conceivably reduce the time spent on noncompensable preliminary or postliminary activities does not alter the conclusion. According to the Court, the focus is on the nature of the activity and its relationship to employees’ principal activities or duties.

The Court’s decision is consistent with long-standing guidance from the Department of Labor (“DOL”). In a 1951 Opinion Letter, the DOL found pre- and post-shift security searches of employees at a rocket-power plant to be noncompensable even though the post-shift search was “for the purpose of preventing theft.” A contrary decision would subject employers to untold liability. Instead, the ruling is likely to benefit other companies, including CVS and Apple, facing similar lawsuits. The decision is important because the Court’s rationale should also apply to other types of preliminary and postliminary activities.
If you have any questions about Wage and Hour Law or any other labor or employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact Whitney P. CooneyDavid P. Frenzia, D. Michael LinihanKaren E. Milner, Robert S. Seigel, or Christopher M. Sanders.

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