Unanimous Supreme Court Holds That Time Waiting In Security Line Is Not Compensable Under Federal Fair Labor Standards Act

In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk (2014) – S.Ct. –, 2014 WL 6885951, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that time spent by employees undergoing security screenings at the end of their shifts was not compensable time under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The employer, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (Integrity Staffing), provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.com throughout the United States.  Integrity required its employees to undergo security screening before leaving the warehouse at the end of each day.  During this screening, employees removed items such as wallets, keys, and belts from their persons and passed through metal detectors.

In 2010, two employees working in two separate Nevada warehouses brought a class action under the FLSA claiming they were entitled to compensation for the time spent waiting to undergo, and actually undergoing, the security screening.  The plaintiff employees alleged they spent approximately 25 minutes per day engaged in such activities.  The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, holding the time spent undergoing the security screenings was not compensable under the FLSA.  On appeal, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed finding the time spent in the security screening was “integral and indispensable” to the employee’s principal work activities and was, therefore, compensable.  The United States Supreme Court thereupon granted review.

The Supreme Court noted that under the FLSA employees are entitled to be compensated for all work performed for an employer and that “work” under the FLSA has been judicially defined to include both the principal activities the employee is employed to perform as well as all activities which are an integral and indispensable part of those principal activities.  However, under that part of the FLSA known as the Portal-to-Portal Act, activities which are either preliminary or postliminary to an employee’s principal activities are not compensable.  The question before the Court, therefore, was whether the time spent undergoing security screening was either an integral and indispensable part of employees’ principal activities, in which case it would be compensable, or whether that time was postliminary (because it occurred at the end of employees’ shifts) to those principal activities, in which case it would not be compensable.

The Court held the time spent undergoing security screenings was not integral and indispensable to the employees’ principal activities and, therefore, was not compensable.  The Court stated that “[a]n activity is …integral to the principal activities that an employee is employed 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.”  The Court found the security screenings did not meet this definition because they “were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment.  And Integrity Staffing could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.”  The Court found the Ninth Circuit had erred in ruling the time undergoing security screenings was compensable by focusing on whether Integrity Staffing required the screenings.  The Court stated that “[t]he integral and indispensable test is tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform” not to whether a particular activity is required by the employer.

While the decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk is a significant victory for employers, California employers should be cautious about applying its holding to their workplaces.  In 2000, the California Supreme Court, in Morillion v. Royal Packing Co. (2000) 22 Cal.4th 575, held that time during which an employee is subject to the control of the employer is compensable time under California law.  In so holding, the California Supreme Court stated that the FLSA’s approach to determining compensable hours of work “differs substantially from the [California] state scheme, [and, therefore,] should be given no deference.”  Accordingly, it is possible, if not probable, that the result in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, may have been different had the case been decided under California state law.  California employers, therefore, should consult with legal counsel before determining whether time spent by employees undergoing security screenings either at the beginning or end of their shifts constitutes compensable hours of work.


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David W. Tyra | 916.321.4500