U.S. Supreme Court Rules Employer Does Not Have To Pay Employees For Time Spent On Post-Shift Security Screens

On December 9, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk. The Court ruled that the Company did not have to pay its employees for time spent waiting to go through a security screening process at the end of their shift, or for time spent waiting to go through that process.

The Basic Facts

Integrity Staffing provides warehouse employees for Amazon in locations around the country. The warehouse employees retrieve inventory and package it for delivery to Amazon’s customers.

As a theft prevention measure, Integrity Staffing requires its warehouse employees to go through a security screening process after their shift ends. According to the two employees who brought the suit, Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, that process included waiting time and generally required about twenty-five minutes. During the process, employees removed items such as wallets, keys and belts from their persons and passed through metal detectors.

The Legal Issue

The Fair Labor Standards Act of course provides that non-exempt employees must be paid for all time worked. An amendment to that law, often called the Portal- to-Portal Act, provides that certain activities are not compensable. Among them are activities that are deemed “preliminary or postliminary to” the “principal activity or activities” of the employee’s job.

The U.S. Supreme Court, and lower courts, have in past cases considered whether a particular activity was preliminary or postliminary, or part of the employee’s principal activity. In those cases, the courts held that the term “principal activity” includes all activities which are “an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities.”

In Integrity Staffing, the Court provided some additional guidance on the meaning of those terms by stating: “An activity is . . . integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is hired to perform if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.”

Application To The Case

In Integrity Staffing, the employees were hired to retrieve items and package them for delivery. They were not hired to go through security screens.

Further, the employees could have retrieved and packaged items without going through a security screen. In other words, going through the screen was not “integral” or “indispensable” to the principal activity for which the employees were hired. Therefore, held the Court, the time waiting to go through the screens and going through the screens was not compensable.

Notably, the employees argued that the screening process was implemented to prevent theft, and thus benefitted only the employer and its customers. The employees argued that those realities, along with the employer’s decision to require them to go through the screen, should have made the activity compensable. The Supreme Court squarely rejected those contentions, and instead held that the proper analysis is whether the activity in question is integral and indispensable to the employee’s principal activity.

Concluding Thoughts

The Integrity Staffing case is not only a victory for employers, it provides helpful guidance for how the question of compensability must be analyzed. Nevertheless, it is not always obvious whether a given activity is or is not “integral” and “indispensable” to an employee’s ability to perform the “principal activity” for which the employee was hired. An employer should carefully analyze the facts and think through this issue when determining whether employees should be paid for various activities that take place before or after what they or their employees may consider to be the work day. It can be expected that there will be much more litigation over this issue in other factual contexts.