Supreme Court Rules on Security-Screening Time Case

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a very important ruling to employers on December 9, 2014, in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk. At issue was whether employees at an Amazon fulfillment center, who were required to undergo a security check at the end their shifts, should have been compensated for that time under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  In a unanimous opinion (a rarity with the current composition of the Court), the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had held that since the employer required the screening, it was compensable time.

Focusing on Congress’s passage of the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947, the Court determined that the central issue was not whether the post-shift screening was required by the employer, or if the employer had ensured that the screening was as short as possible through staggered shift endings or hiring more screening personnel.  The Court instead held that the Portal-to-Portal Act expressly held that the only those activities that were “integral” and “indispensable” to the “principal activities which the employee is employed to perform,” yet fell outside the normal shift of the employee, were properly compensable.  The Court pointed to its own precedent that the donning of safety equipment in a battery plant, or the sharpening of knives for butchers, were compensable since those duties were required for the employee to perform their duties safely and efficiently.

Since Integrity Staffing hired employees to “retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products,” not to undergo security screenings, the time spent deterring employee theft at the end of a shift was not integral or indispensable to the employees’ principal duties.

This case is an important victory for employers in two ways.  First, it allows employers to create post-shift security procedures to prevent theft without fear of FLSA litigation.  Second, the Court ignored arguments that an employer needed to find the least time-consuming method of conducting those screenings.  As a result, an employer can determine the most cost-effective screening it needs without fear that the screening process will be scrutinized by a court or with a de minimus requirement attaching under the FLSA.

To learn more about this case, other issues related to the FLSA, or discuss permissible employee theft prevention strategies, contact Jen Cornell.

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