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U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Employers in Security Clearance Case Involving Fair Labor Standards Act

Tags:  (2014 Dec 22nd - 3:02pm)

In a positive decision for employers, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case of Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk that the time employees spent at the end of a shift waiting to undergo a security screening was not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Justice Thomas who wrote the opinion for the court stated that “an activity is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform-and thus compensable under the FLSA-if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.” The time spent waiting to undergo security screenings did not, according to Justice Thomas, meet these criteria. IPMA-HR joined with other state and local governments in an amicus curiae brief that urged the Supreme Court to find that the time spent by the employees in this case should not be compensable under the FLSA.

Integrity Staffing Solutions provides warehouse staffing to Amazon. Employees who worked at Amazon warehouses in Nevada were required to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse at the end of each day. The screening included going through metal detectors. This case was filed in 2010 alleging that they were entitled to compensation under the FLSA for the time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing the security screenings. They alleged that they spent about 25 minutes per day on the security screenings. The District Court dismissed the complaint holding that the time spent by the employees was not compensable under the FLSA. The Ninth Circuit reversed holding that the screenings were necessary to the employees’ primary work as warehouse employees and done for the benefit of the employer.

The Supreme Court noted that Congress passed the Portal-to-Portal Act, which is an amendment to the FLSA and exempted employers from liability for claims based on: 1) traveling to and from the actual place where work is performed and 2) activities which are preliminary or postliminary to the principal activity which occurs prior to the start of work or following the end of the workday. This case concerned the postliminary activity of the employees.

The Supreme Court stated that it has always interpreted “the term principal activity or activities to embrace all activities which are an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities.” The court noted that the Department of Labor’s regulations are consistent with this view. The court found that the security screening constituted noncompensable postliminary activities. They were not the “principal activity or activities which the employee is employed to perform.” The work of the employees was to gather and ship products from the warehouse shelves. According to the court, “The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment.” The screenings could be eliminated without impacting the ability of the employees to complete their work.

The Supreme Court believed that the focus of the Ninth Circuit on whether an employer required a particular activity was an error. “The integral and indispensable test is tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform,” according to the Supreme Court. The court concluded that basing the decision on whether the activity is for the benefit of the employer is overly broad.

The Supreme Court also rejected the argument that the time spent on the security screenings could have been reduced by the employer. The court believed that reducing the time would not change the “nature of the activity or its relationship to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform.” The court believed that this argument should be presented to the employer through collective bargaining.