An employer in Pennsylvania has just been sued by the Department of Labor for failing to pay its employees for the time they spent changing in and out of their work clothes. Employers should take note, because under certain circumstances, time spent changing in and out of work clothes can be compensable time under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The employer was a manufacturer who required its 7,000 employees to change into protective clothing before work and then change out of this clothing and shower after work. It did not pay its employees for any of this time, which, according to the Department of Labor, was a violation of the FLSA, and warranted the lawsuit.
Under the FLSA, if an employee cannot perform his or her job without first engaging in a preliminary or postliminary activity, then the employee must be paid for the time spent engaging in the preliminary and postliminary activity. Compensable preliminary and postliminary activities must be “integral and indispensable to the principal activities” performed on the job. For example, putting on protective gear at a poultry processing plant has been held as a compensable preliminary activity.
Compensable preliminary and postliminary activities do not include, however, time spent commuting or walking to and from a work station. Additionally, preliminary and postliminary activities that are very brief are not compensable. So, time spent putting on hardhats, ear plugs, and safety glasses would not be compensable. Time spent putting on and changing out of a police uniform has also been held not to be compensable. Nor is time spent engaging in security screenings before work compensable.
Courts have tended to draw pretty narrowly the preliminary and postliminary activities which they consider to be compensable, so under most circumstances an employer probably does not have to worry about paying employees for getting ready for or leaving work. However, if getting ready for or leaving work requires a considerable amount of time and effort, then the odds that an employer will have to compensate the employee for this time increase. Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions about this issue.