So do all those Amazon.com workers filling your holiday orders need to be paid extra for undergoing security screenings at the end of their shift? The U.S. Supreme Court today said no. The Court’s highly anticipated, unanimous ruling emerged from Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, a case involving the interpretation of the Portal-to-Portal Act, 29 U.S.C. § 254(a), which exempts employers from FLSA liability for claims based on “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to” the performance of employees’ principal work duties.
In Integrity Staffing Solutions, a staffing company that provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.com required its employees, who were non-exempt warehouse workers, to undergo a security screening at the end of the day. Similar to what is done in airports, the employees were required to empty their pockets and pass through metal detectors to make sure they had not stolen any products. The employees filed a class action, claiming that they were entitled to compensation for the time spent waiting for and undergoing the required security screenings. They claimed that such screenings were more than de minimis because they amounted to approximately 25 minutes, and that the screenings occurred solely for the benefit of the employers and their customers because they were conducted to prevent theft.
Reversing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that the security screenings do not constitute “an integral and indispensable part” of the employees’ principal activities, and thus, they were noncompensable postliminary activities. In arriving at its conclusion, the Court explained that the security screenings were not principal activities because Integrity Staffing did not hire the workers to go through security screenings but to pull products from warehouse shelves and repackage them. Also, the screenings were not an intrinsic part of the warehouse employees’ job duties – Integrity Staffing could eliminate them without affecting the employees’ abilities to work. The Court also noted that the U.S. Department of Labor’s regulations interpreting and applying the FLSA support its analysis. The regulations explain that activities including “checking in and out and waiting in line to do so, changing clothes, washing up or showering, and waiting in line to receive pay checks” are preliminary and postliminary activities that are not compensable.
The Court also rejected the 9th Circuit’s analysis that focused on whether the security screenings were required by the employer, noting that the key question is whether the activities are integral and indispensable to the productive work that the worker is employed to perform. Finally, the Court rejected the workers’ argument that Integrity Staffing could have reduced the wait time to a de minimis amount, finding that the nature of the postliminary/preliminary activity is the relevant inquiry, and not the employer’s ability to reduce time spent on such activities. Similar to its January 2014 ruling in Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., which we reported here, the Court indicated its preference that issues involving compensation for preliminary or postliminary activities be decided through labor-management negotiations.
Integrity Staffing represents a significant victory for retailers and other companies that use security screening measures to protect against worker theft. Apart from avoiding what could have been significant sums in back pay, such employers now have much-needed clarity regarding the compensability of “wait time” and time undergoing security checks.