In a new opinion letter, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has reversed course on pay for union-represented workers who change clothes at the beginning or end of the workday. The letter focuses on a special exception in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that allows a collective bargaining agreement to exclude pay for changing clothes or washing up at the beginning or end of the workday.
First, the agency decided that the special exception doesn’t extend to personal protective equipment (PPE) “that is required by law, by the employer, or due to the nature of the job.” Translation: even if a collective bargaining agreement says you don’t have to pay for changing clothes, you may have to pay for the time it takes to put on required PPE.
Second, the agency decided that even if a collective bargaining agreement says you don’t have to pay for the time it takes to actually change clothes, the changing may itself be a “principal activity” that signals the beginning or end of the workday. Translation: If it takes 15 minutes after changing clothes for the employee to walk to the work station, you may have to pay for those 15 minutes of walking time (Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2010-2, June 16, 2010).
Tips: If the time it takes to put on or remove PPE is minimal (e.g., such as for a hard hat and hearing protection), then you generally don’t have to pay for that time. The DOL is more concerned with lengthy donning and doffing of PPE, such as at a meat-packing plant. For more information, see our Legal Guide, “Compensation for Pre-Shift and Post-Shift Activities” (1179).