December 12, 2014

Supreme Court Rejects Compensation For Antitheft Security Screenings, But Would A California Court Find Differently?

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held this week that time spent by employees going through a post-shift security screening is not compensable time.  In a relatively brief and uncontroversial opinion, the Court found in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk that workers at an Amazon warehouse in Nevada who were required to spend upwards of 25 minutes in an antitheft security screening could not bring a claim for unpaid wages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). 

Reversing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which hears appeals of federal cases from California), the Supreme Court rejected the employees’ argument that they were entitled to compensation for security screenings because such screenings were not “integral and indispensable” to the actual work employees performed.  The Court differentiated this case from two other cases where certain pre- or post-shift activities were found to be compensable – in particular, time that employees in a battery plant spent showering and changing clothes after being exposed to toxic chemicals and the time spent by butchers sharpening their knives.  Unlike those two cases, the security screening at the Amazon plant was not an “intrinsic element” of the work performed by the employees.

In a bit of a surprise, the Supreme Court also unanimously rejected the employees’ argument that the amount of time spent on the security screening – over 25 minutes at times – had any bearing on the issue of compensability.  The employees had argued that Amazon could have reduced the amount of time spent in the security checks to a minimal amount of time by hiring more security checkers, but the Court found that the only relevant issue was the nature of the task being performed, not the amount of time spent on it.

This resolves the issue under the FLSA, but the California Labor Code has at times applied different standards to the definition of compensable work time.  For example, under California law, it is irrelevant to the definition of “work hours” whether the work was performing during an employee’s normal hours or in his normal place of work; the only relevant inquiry is whether the employee was subject to the employer’s “control” at the time of working.  Would that same analysis change the outcome had this case been brought in a California state court under the Labor Code?  While there is no California decision dealing with the compensability of time spent in security screenings, it is not inconceivable to think that a California court would resolve this same case differently.

Category: Wage-Hour,