This morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fair Labor Standards Act did not require employers to pay employees for time spent going through a security screening and waiting in line to be screened.  Justice Thomas, writing for a unanimous court, concluded that such screenings are not “integral and indispensable” to the employee’s principal work activities as required by the FLSA.  The decision reversed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and is welcome news for employers.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision was a concern for employers in many industries, including retail and manufacturing.  Proskauer assisted with an amicus brief on behalf of several industry groups—the Retail Litigation Center, Inc., United States Chamber of Commerce, Society for Human Resource Management, National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, and National Association of Manufacturers urging for the courts to follow existing precedent that clearly delineated between compensable and non-compensable time and that supported Integrity Staffing’s position.

The Supreme Court has previously made the following distinctions between compensable and non-compensable time:

  • The Court has found compensable the time meatpacker employees spent sharpening their knives because knives were tools they used in their productive work.
  • The Court has found compensable the time battery-plant employees spent showering and changing clothes because the employer conceded those activities were indispensable to the performance of their work with toxic chemicals.
  • The Court has found non-compensable the time spent by poultry plant employees waiting to don protective gear because that waiting was too attenuated to the productive work performed on the assembly line.

Today’s decision is consistent with its prior rulings that the FLSA requires employers to compensate employees only for those pre- and post-shift activities that are not only necessary, but also essential for the effective performance of the employee’s productive work.  The decision allows employers to continue to conduct security screenings to provide a safe work environment and combat employee theft without the significant costs and operational burdens that the Ninth Circuit’s decision would have imposed.