FLSA “Donning and Doffing” Wage and Hour Rights
May 18, 2010
Our Southern California Employment Attorneys recently discussed a class action "donning and doffing" lawsuit, in which a group employees have filed a lawsuit against Farmland Foods, alleging that the company has not paid them for the time it takes to put on ('donning') their gear before working, and take off ('doffing') their gear after the workday is over.
"Donning and doffing" wage and hour rights are based on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In the 2005 Supreme Court case, IBP v. Alvarez, the high court ruled unanimously in favor of workers' rights--that they must be paid for the time spent walking to and from the place where they put on and take off their protective gear, and the place where they process the poultry or meat.
The Supreme Court decided that donning and doffing protective gear is a "principal activity" under law, and that under the FLSA, time spent donning and doffing, as well as any time walking or waiting that occurs after the worker begins his first principal work activity, and before he finishes his last work activity, is part of the worker's "continuous workday" and is compensable under law. The Court also ruled that waiting time before the very first principal activity is not compensable, unless the workers are required to report to work at a specific time.
According to the Department of Labor, the Supreme Court reached this result by reviewing and reaffirming the historic definition of "work" under the FLSA. The Court stated that it originally defined the terms "work' and "workweek" with broad strokes. "Work" had initially been defined as "physical or mental exertion" controlled or required by an employer and necessary for the benefit of the employer and his business. The Court soon after clarified that "exertion" was not necessary for an activity to constitute "work." The Court then redefined "the statutory workweek" to include "all the time during which an employee is necessarily required to be on the employer's premises, on duty or at a prescribed workplace."
In IBP v. Alvarez, the Court clarified that other than the exception for travel to and from an employee's principal work activity and for other starting or ending employment activities, the definition of "work" or "workday" is not changed--therefore under the FLSA, no matter how little the time is, any employee who is required to spend time putting on and taking off gear on the employer's premise should be compensated--as this time is considered "compensable work" by law.
U.S. Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division (WHD), WAGE AND HOUR ADVISORY MEMORANDUM NO. 2006-2: IBP v. Alvarez Press Release, May 31, 2006
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