Employees Must Be Compensated For “Donning & Doffing” Specialized Gear

March 31, 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires employers to pay employees for time spent walking from changing areas to their workstations after putting on specialized protective gear required for the job, as well as for time spent walking from their workstations to the place where the gear is removed.

In the case in question, the employees worked in a meat processing plant and wore specialized protective gear including leggings, aprons, and boots. Pay was based on time spent cutting and bagging meat and began with the first piece of meat cut and ended with the last piece cut. The employer also compensated employees with four minutes of time to change clothes.

The Court determined that, since the employee’s principal activities included “donning” (putting on) and “doffing” (taking off) required specialized gear to cut and bag the meat, the employee’s workday began and ended with the donning and doffing of that gear. Accordingly, the Court held that activities which occurred after putting on that gear, such as walking to a workstation, were compensable as part of a continuous workday and continued until that gear was removed.

In a companion case, which was part of the same decision, the Court also addressed whether employers are required to compensate employees for the time spent waiting to put on, or take off, required gear. The companion case concerned employees working in a poultry processing plant. The Court concluded that time spent waiting before putting on the required gear was not compensable because it was too far removed from the employee’s “principal activity.” Contrastingly, the Court concluded that time spent waiting before taking off the gear was part of the “principal activity” and was, therefore, compensable under the FLSA.

There are several important effects of this decision on employers. If you have any employees who spend time changing clothes on your premises, you should evaluate whether that changing time is integral and indispensable to their work. If it is, you may have to compensate employees for that changing time, as well as for time walking to and from their workstations. To minimize your potential exposure, you should place essential clothing and changing areas in close proximity to employee workstations. You should also focus on strategies that minimize waiting times before any clothing is put on or taken off to limit the amount of time employees could claim they did not receive compensation.

IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, U.S. Supreme Court, 2005.

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