On May 9, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) secured its largest Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) jury verdict in history, when a jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania awarded $22 million to a class of approximately 7,500 workers for unpaid time spent on pre- and post-shift activities.  The case is Su v. East Penn Manufacturing Co., E.D. Pa. Civil Action No. 5:18-cv-01194-GEKP.

Under the Portal-to-Portal Act amendments to the FLSA, codified at 29 U.S.C. § 254(a)(2), employers are not required to pay for time spent on preliminary or postliminary activities that occur before or after the principal activity an employee is employed to perform, except for tasks that are “integral and indispensable” to the principal activities.  Ambiguity over what tasks are “integral and indispensable” has contributed to litigation in recent years regarding activities such as bag checks, other security screenings, and COVID-19 health screenings, among other allegedly compensable tasks.

The DOL sued East Penn Manufacturing (“East Penn”), a lead battery manufacturer, in 2018, alleging that the company failed to pay wages for time spent by non-exempt employees changing into uniforms, donning and doffing personal protective equipment (“PPE”), and showering after shifts.  The DOL alleged these activities were integral and indispensable to the work of manufacturing batteries, which involves exposure to toxic materials including lead, cadmium, arsenic, sulfuric acid, and ammonia.  East Penn argued that these were generic safety measures taken by employees in numerous industries and settings, and were not inherent to the employees’ work.

On summary judgment, the district court agreed with the DOL, ruling that the activities at issue were compensable as a matter of law.  There was also no dispute that the activities were unpaid.  At trial, the jury was tasked with evaluating East Penn’s defenses (including that the work was de minimis), and if it found liability, deciding whether the violations were willful and awarding damages.  After a 30-day trial, the jury rendered its record-setting verdict.

The East Penn case is a sobering reminder that even brief preliminary and postliminary activities may present thorny legal issues that can add up to serious liability.  The risk may be even greater in states such as California, New York, Massachusetts, and others where steep penalties are potentially available or, in the case of California, where the definition of compensable time expands beyond the Portal-to-Portal Act’s limits.  Employers are well-advised to pay careful attention to such issues and consider partnering with sophisticated employment counsel to minimize risk.

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Photo of Allan Bloom Allan Bloom

Allan S. Bloom is a nationally recognized trial lawyer and advisor who represents management in a broad range of employment and labor law matters. As a litigator, Allan has successfully defended a number of the world’s leading companies against claims for unpaid wages…

Allan S. Bloom is a nationally recognized trial lawyer and advisor who represents management in a broad range of employment and labor law matters. As a litigator, Allan has successfully defended a number of the world’s leading companies against claims for unpaid wages, employment discrimination, breach of contract and wrongful discharge, both at the trial and appellate court levels as well as in arbitration. He has secured complete defense verdicts for clients in front of juries, as well as injunctions to protect clients’ confidential information and assets.

As the leader of Proskauer’s Wage and Hour Practice Group, Allan has been a strategic partner to a number of Fortune 500 companies to help them avoid, minimize and manage exposure to wage and hour-related risk. Allan’s views on wage and hour issues have been featured in The New York TimesReutersBloomberg and Fortune, among other leading publications. His class-action defense work for clients has saved hundreds of millions of dollars in potential damages.

Allan is regularly called on to advise boards of directors and senior leadership on highly sensitive matters such as executive transitions, internal investigations and strategic workforce planning. He also has particular expertise in the financial services industry, where he has litigated and arbitrated cases, including at FINRA and its predecessors, for more than 20 years.
A prolific author and speaker, Allan was the Editor of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Journal from 2012 to 2017. He has served as an author, editor and contributor to a number of leading treatises in the field of employment law, including ADR in Employment Law (ABA/Bloomberg BNA, Senior Editor), Employment Discrimination Law (ABA/Bloomberg BNA, Final Proof Editor), Cutting Edge Advances in Resolving Workplace Disputes (Cornell University/CPR, Editor), The Employment Law Review (Law Business Research, U.S. Chapter Author), and The Complete Compliance and Ethics Manual (SCCE, Chapter Author).

Allan is a member of the NYSBA’s House of Delegates, sits on the Executive Committee of the NYSBA’s Labor and Employment Law Section, and is a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. He has been recognized as a leading practitioner by Chambers since 2011.

Photo of Philippe A. Lebel Philippe A. Lebel

Philippe (Phil) A. Lebel represents employers in all aspects of employment litigation, including wage and hour, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, defamation, trade secrets, and breach of contract litigation, in both the single-plaintiff and class- and/or representative-action context, at both the trial and…

Philippe (Phil) A. Lebel represents employers in all aspects of employment litigation, including wage and hour, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, defamation, trade secrets, and breach of contract litigation, in both the single-plaintiff and class- and/or representative-action context, at both the trial and appellate level, and before administrative agencies.

In addition to his litigation work, Phil regularly advises clients regarding compliance with federal, state and local employment laws, and assists a variety of companies and financial firms in evaluating labor and employment issues in connection with corporate transactions. Phil also has experience assisting employers with sensitive employee investigations and trainings.  Phil also represents employers in connection with labor law matters, such as labor arbitrations and proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board.

Phil has assisted clients in a wide array of sectors including in the biotech, education, entertainment, financial services, fitness, healthcare, high-tech, legal services, manufacturing, media, professional services, sports, and staffing industries, among others.

Phil regularly speaks on emerging issues for employers and has been published or quoted in Law360, the Daily JournalThe Hollywood ReporterBusiness Insurance, and SHRM.org regarding a variety of labor and employment law topics.

During college, Phil worked on political campaigns in Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama, and was an intern with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. Phil is a former member of the Board of Directors of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.

Photo of Jonathan Slowik Jonathan Slowik

Jonathan Slowik is a special counsel in the Labor Department and a member of the Employment Litigation & Counseling Group.

Photo of Morgan Peterson Morgan Peterson

Morgan Peterson is an associate in the Labor & Employment Department and a member of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration Group. She is a member of the Wage and Hour and the Class and Collective Action practice groups.

Morgan assists clients across a…

Morgan Peterson is an associate in the Labor & Employment Department and a member of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration Group. She is a member of the Wage and Hour and the Class and Collective Action practice groups.

Morgan assists clients across a variety of industries with litigations and arbitrations relating to wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wage and hour, and whistleblower matters in both the single plaintiff and class and collective action contexts. She also counsels employers on a diverse range of workplace issues and their policy and handbook development. Morgan maintains an active pro bono practice representing individuals in immigration matters and providing employment counseling to non-profit organizations.

Morgan earned her J.D. from U.C. Irvine School of Law, where she was an Executive Editor of the UC Irvine Law Review and spent four semesters working in UCI’s Civil Rights Litigation Clinic. Morgan also served as a judicial extern for the Honorable John D. Early in the Central District of California. Morgan received her B.A., cum laude, from Tufts University.