U.S. Supreme Court Holds Workers not Entitled to Compensation for Time Spent in Security Screenings

On December 9, 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided that hourly warehouse workers who retrieved products from warehouse shelves and packaged them for delivery to Amazon.com customers were not required to be compensated for the time spent undergoing security screening at the end of the work day.  Workers spent approximately 25 minutes a day waiting to be, and being, screened.  The case. Integrity Staffing Solutions, et al. v. Busk, No. 13-433, implicates the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA)  and Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947.

Congress amended the FLSA in 1947 to clarify the terms “work” and “workweek,” which the FLSA had not defined.  The  amendment, known as the Portal-to-Portal Act excluded from compensable work time  “activities which are preliminary to or postpreliminary to” the performance of an employee’s principal activities.   Subsequent Supreme Court precedent included as “principal activities” all activities that are an “integral and indispensable” part of the principal activities.

In rejecting the plaintiffs’ contention that the security screenings constituted compensable work time, the Supreme Court reasoned that the screenings were neither part of, nor “integral and indispensable” to, the principal activities of the workers’ activities, which was retrieving products from warehouse shelves and packaging them for shipment.  The Court was not swayed by arguments that the screenings were necessary to the plaintiffs’ primary work, because they were conducted to prevent employee theft.

Surprisingly, the Obama administration had likewise agreed that the time spent in connection with security screenings was a noncompensable postpreliminary activity.

Although Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a concurring opinion that the Court’s decision should be narrowly construed, the fact that the Court ruled that the time spent waiting to be, and being screened, was not compensable could potentially have far-reaching consequences, particularly because the screening was an activity that was required by the employer as a condition for holding the job, despite that it was not “integral and indispensable” to performing the actual duties.