On December 9, 2014, the United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, ruling that employers are not required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to compensate their workers for the time the workers spend in security screenings. The case came to the Supreme Court from the Ninth Circuit and involved a putative class of Nevada warehouse workers who claimed in part that their employer (a warehousing contractor for Amazon) was violating the FLSA by requiring them to spend up to 25 minutes of uncompensated time going through a security clearance at the end of their shifts. The FLSA generally does not require that employees be compensated for activities that are “preliminary” or “postliminary” to the “principal activity or activities” that the employee “is employed to perform.” However, compensation is required if the preliminary or postliminary activities are “integral and indispensable” to the employee’s principal activities. The Ninth Circuit ruled in 2013 that the workers had stated a claim for a violation of the FLSA, finding that the security screening was necessary to the employees’ principal work and done for the benefit of the employer because the security screening was in place to prevent employee theft.
The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision reverses the Ninth Circuit and is seen as a victory for employers. Justice Thomas, writing for the Court, held that the security screening was not a “principal activity” of the warehouse workers’ jobs or an activity “with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.” Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that the time spent in the security screening is not compensable time under the FLSA. The unanimous opinion, as well as the concurring opinion written by Justice Sotomayor and joined by Justice Kagan, notes that the ruling is consistent with Labor Department regulations on this issue. The Supreme Court also held that the Ninth Circuit had erred in its determination by focusing on whether the employer required the security screenings rather than whether the security screenings were essential to the job the workers were being paid to perform. The Supreme Court ruled that the required test as to whether time spent performing a preliminary or postliminary activity is compensable under the FLSA cannot be satisfied simply by finding that an employer requires its workers to engage in the activity or that the activity is for the benefit of the employer.
This client alert is intended to inform clients and other interested parties about legal matters of current interest and is not intended as legal advice.