Supreme Court Decision Clarifies What After-Hours Job Tasks Qualify for Compensation Under FLSA

Amazon warehouse workers will not be compensated for
time standing in security check lines

Should an employee be compensated for time spent on before- or after-work-related activities such as standing in a security line or waiting to punch in? This has been the subject of intense debate throughout the court system for some time.

However, a unanimous Supreme Court decision issued December 9 affecting workers at two Amazon.com warehouses in Nevada may have put to rest questions regarding what work-related activities are classified as "integral and indispensable" to the job function and, therefore, considered compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In overturning a previous decision by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court established that "an act is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform - and thus compensable under the FLSA - if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities."

In the specific case of the Amazon warehouse employees who must stand in line after their shifts to undergo security screening designed to deter employee theft, it was determined that this task was neither a principal activity nor an integral part of their work assignments and, therefore, did not qualify for compensation under the FLSA. In making this decision, the Supreme Court confirmed that such security screenings are not different than many other after-hours tasks that employees must do, such as walking from the parking lot or waiting to punch in for work.

The ruling has been hailed as a major success for business as it may well have set a new standard for employers not having to pay employees for every activity they require them to do. It effectively sets a precedent that may help employers more effectively defend themselves against certain FLSA work-time claims. Employers, however, need to be mindful of state laws that regulate payment for these types of activities.

Had the Supreme Court decided in favor of the employees in this specific case, it could have set in motion numerous claims that would have required back pay for as many 400,00 workers amounting to more than $100 million.

It is interesting to note that the Amazon case was one of the few examples where the Department of Labor (DOL) even argued in favor of the employer.

While the Supreme Court ruling effectively limits the amount of compensable activities before and after working hours, employers should still consult with their legal counsel regarding fact-specific situations as they arise.

For more information on this or other employment law issues, please contact one of our Employment lawyers.