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Supreme Court to Decide Cases with Potential to Affect Payroll Practices of Most Employers

  • February 23, 2005

On February 22, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will review two cases involving the parameters of the compensable workday under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal wage and hour law.  The two cases deal with whether an employer is required to pay employees from the time they put on protective work clothing until they remove the clothing at the end of the work day, and, once in the protective clothing, for the time they spend walking to and from their work stations.  The decision could impact the pay practices of most employers and create unexpected liabilities for employers with regard to employees who wear protective work clothing.

In IBP v. Alvarez, U.S., No. 03-1238, cert. granted, February 22, 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that, under the FLSA, the employer was required to pay employees from the time that the employees put on protective clothing at the beginning of their workday until the clothing was removed at the end of their workday.  The court also found the employer was required to pay employees for any associated time spent walking to and from their work stations.  In Tum v. Barber Foods, U.S., No. 04-66, cert. granted, February 22, 2005, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held the employer was not required to compensate employees for putting on or taking off protective clothing or for associated walking time.  In consolidating and granting review in these two cases, the Supreme Court will address this conflict.  The Court will also consider the question of whether time that employees spend waiting in line to obtain protective clothing is compensable under the FLSA.

In an amici curiae (or "friends of the court") brief, the National Chicken Council, American Meat Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers urged the Court to review these issues, arguing that the conflicting opinions "leave both public and private employers subject to contradictory interpretations of the FLSA and subject to vast, unforeseen and unpredictable liabilities that are arbitrarily dependent upon the location of their operations."  Attorney David Wylie, of Jackson Lewis LLP, represents the National Chicken Council, American Meat Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers, and points out that the issues raised in this case have affected a broad range of public and private employers.  In addition to meat and poultry processors, employers with a stake in the outcome of these cases include automotive manufacturers, the construction industry, medical equipment manufacturers, and police departments, among others. 

"This case very possibly represents the most significant employment law case before the Court this term, because the Court's decision could either clarify the scope of the compensable workday, or create substantial, and in most cases unexpected, liabilities for any employer whose employees wear protective clothing during the workday," commented Mr. Wylie.  The parties to the cases, along with other interested amici cuiae, will brief the Court on the issues, and the Court will schedule oral argument before issuing its opinion. 

Please contact Attorney David Wylie, in the Greenville, South Carolina office of Jackson Lewis LLP, for more information:  (864) 232-7000,

©2005 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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