The U.S. Court of Appeals recently considered whether an employer was required to pay employees for time spent changing in and out of uniforms at the manufacturing plant. (Ballaris v. Wacker Siltronic Corp. (— F. 3d —, 2004 Daily Journal D.A.R. 6563, 9th Cir. (Or.), Jun. 3, 2004))
Employer, Wacker Siltronic Corporation, required a group of its employees to change into gowns before clocking in. This “gowning” process took approximately 30 minutes per day. Employer also required a certain number of employees to wear plant uniforms under their gowns and to change into and out of them at the plant. The process of changing into the uniforms took an additional 20 to 30 minutes per day. On behalf of himself and others similarly situated, an employee sued employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act claiming unpaid overtime for the time spent donning gowns and uniforms. The federal district court ruled in favor of employer and the employee appealed.
Appellate Court Decision
According to the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947, which amended the FLSA, “ordinary” clothes-changing is not considered “working” time. However, if clothes-changing is not merely a convenience to an employee and directly relates to the specific work, it is considered part of work time. Furthermore, if an employer’s rules or the nature of the work require employees to change clothes on the employer’s premises, the activity may be considered integral and indispensable to work and thus compensable.
Here, Employer required employees to change into uniforms at the plant and prohibited them from leaving the premises while wearing the uniforms. Furthermore, changing on the premises benefited Employer by ensuring cleanliness and product quality. Thus, the time spent putting on and taking off the uniforms is considered work time. The Court, however, noted that Employer may not need to compensate its employees for time spent changing uniforms if the time is de minimis. Noting that 20 to 30 minutes is probably not insubstantial, the Court nevertheless concluded that a question of fact existed on this issue that should be addressed when the case is sent back to the trial court.
Employer argued that, because it gives its employees a 30-minute paid lunch break, it should not have to pay for 30 minutes of overtime spent changing in and out of gowns and uniforms. The Court rejected this argument because compensation for the paid lunch period is not included in the regular rate of compensation. Furthermore, “[c]rediting money already due an employee for some other reason against the wage he is owed is not paying that employee the compensation to which he is entitled by statute.”
The Court therefore sent the case back to the federal district court to determine the amount of unpaid wages due to the employees.
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