Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Dec 11, 2014

Alert: Supreme Court says no pay for security screening time at Amazon warehouse

Wage and Hour 

Warehouse workers who had to wait up to 25 minutes after their shifts to go through a security screening weren’t entitled to be paid for the time, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday.

Warehouse workers who had to wait up to 25 minutes after their shifts to go through a security screening weren’t entitled to be paid for the time, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court on December 9, 2014. Time spent in tasks before or after a shift must be “integral and indispensable” to employees’ principal activities in order for employers to be required to pay for the time.

The employees worked for an Amazon.com staffing contractor at a warehouse in Nevada. They pulled products off shelves in the warehouse and packaged them for shipment. To deter theft, the employer required everyone to empty their pockets and go through metal detectors after their shifts. The Court ruled that it doesn’t matter whether a pre-shift or post-shift activity is required by the employer. The question is whether the activity is “an intrinsic element” of employees’ principal activities (i.e., of the work they were hired to perform) that cannot be dispensed with.

The Court said these employees could have performed their warehouse jobs safely and effectively without going through a security screening. Therefore the security checks weren’t integral and indispensable to their work, and didn’t trigger an obligation to pay for the time. The Court contrasted the warehouse workers’ situation with two past cases in which payment was required: employees at a battery manufacturing plant who had to shower and change clothes after exposure to toxic substances (necessary for safety) and employees at a meat processing plant who had to sharpen their knives before work (necessary for effectiveness) (Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, US, Dec. 9, 2014). 

Tips: The employees suggested that the company could have sped up the process by adding security screeners or staggering clock-out times. The company might have been able to fend off this very expensive class action lawsuit by implementing practical measures to address workers’ anger over the long wait times to exit the warehouse. Left unaddressed, such worker discontent may result in union organizing drives, difficulties in recruiting and retention, and reduction in quality of products and services. A workplace culture that encourages problem-solving and fosters employee engagement can have a major positive effect on your bottom line. Contact your Vigilant staff representative for help in identifying solutions, which may include supervisory training and leadership coaching.

Not sure whether your organization should be paying employees for the time they spend on work-related activities before or after their shifts? Contact your Vigilant employment attorney and see our Legal Guide, “Compensation for Pre-Shift and Post-Shift Activities”.

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