A donning and doffing issue confounds this company where workers initially agree to not be paid for getting changed or walking to their workstations. Then they complain their agreement violates the FLSA and sue. Who wins?
Read the dramatized version of this real-life case and see if you can determine the outcome.
“I thought we’d solved this donning and doffing issue,” said VP Brendan Kramer.
Brendan sat in his office across from HR manager Lynn Rondo.
“This was part of our collective bargaining agreement,” Brendan continued. “The union guys agreed that they wouldn’t be paid for the time it took to put on their safety clothing or for their walk from the locker room to the shop floor.”
“I know,” said Lynn. “But the staff members are arguing that not paying them for that time violates the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“They say that would trump any agreement we have in place,” she added.
“Sounds like an attempt to give themselves a raise,” Brendan said sarcastically.
“If we require them to wear the gear, it’s technically a part of their job,” said Lynn. “And that’s the only reason they have to walk from the locker room in the first place.”
“But we don’t have to pay for everything we expect of staff,” said Brendan. “We require employees to come to work, but we don’t count their commute in toward their hours.”
The employees filed a class action suit against Lynn’s company, claiming they were eligible for OT under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Did the company win?
Yes, Lynn’s company won when the case was dismissed.
Initially, a trial court ruled that the time walking to and from the locker room may compensable under the FLSA.
But an appeals court overturned the verdict by breaking the complaint down into two sections – “dressing time” in the locker room and “travel time” to the workstation.
The Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 and an FLSA amendment two years later make it clear that time spent changing in or out of clothes at the beginning or end of the workday could be excluded for compensable time by a collective bargaining agreement.
As for “travel time” to and from the locker room, the court ruled that there may be portions of an employee’s day that don’t have to be compensated for – even though the employee must do it to work.
Analysis: Not every move is covered
The court made a clarifying comparison in the decision: An employee is required to call out sick. Even though the person is likely compensated for that day under a sick pay policy, the company doesn’t have to pay the staffer for the time it took to make the phone call.
You clearly want to pay staff for all hours worked, but you don’t have to open your wallet for every move staffers make on company property.
Cite: Sandiffer v. United States Steel Corp.