Search form

Supreme Court Rules Don, Doff Time Not Compensable under Workers' Collective Bargaining Agreement

  • February 6, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court has held unanimously that employees need not be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act for their pre-shift and post-shift donning and doffing of clothing required for work where the employer and the workers’ union have agreed in a collective bargaining agreement that such activity would not be compensated. Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., No. 12-417 (Jan. 27, 2014). This had been the view followed by most circuit courts that had addressed the issue. But the Ninth Circuit had found to the contrary.

The plaintiff-employees claimed they were unlawfully denied compensation for time spent putting on and taking off protective gear needed to do their jobs and required by their employer. Section 3(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, codified at 29 U.S.C. § 203(o), allows a collective bargaining agreement to exclude from pay “clothes”-changing time. Such a provision was in the plaintiff-employees’ collective bargaining agreement.

The Supreme Court ruled “clothes,” for the purposes of the FLSA, means “items that are both designed and used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of dress.” It rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that items designed to protect against workplace hazards could not be “clothes.” However, it also rejected the employer’s argument that “clothes” is “anything worn on the body.”

The Court ruled “changing clothes” means substituting or altering one’s dress. Most of the protective clothing and gear worn by the workers, such as flame-retardant jackets, pants, hoods, hardhats, snoods, wristlets, work gloves, leggings, and metatarsal boots, fell within the meaning of “clothes” in Section 3(o), the Court determined. Thus, the time spent donning and doffing this clothing and gear did not require compensation.

Some of the required gear worn by these employees was not “clothes.” This included glasses and earplugs. Nevertheless, he Court ruled the time workers spent donning and doffing these items was not compensable because the statutory exclusion for “time spent” changing clothes was broad enough to include items that were not “clothes,” so long as the vast majority of the time in question is spent donning or doffing clothes as opposed to non-clothes items. Respirators also were not considered “clothes.” The District Court stated that they “are kept and put on as needed at job locations,” which would render the time spent donning and doffing them part of an employee’s normal workday and thus beyond the scope of Section 3(o). The Seventh Circuit did not address respirators at all, and the Supreme Court said it was “not inclined to disturb the District Court’s factual conclusion.”

The Court did not address whether employees whose donning and doffing time is excluded by Section 3(o) nevertheless may be entitled to compensation for time spent walking to and from their job sites at the beginning and end of the workday. A lower court granted summary judgment to the employer on this question, but the issue was not before the Supreme Court. 

Please contact the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work if you have any questions.

©2014 Jackson Lewis P.C. This Update is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between Jackson Lewis and any readers or recipients. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without the express written consent of Jackson Lewis.

This Update may be considered attorney advertising in some states. Furthermore, prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Jackson Lewis P.C. represents management exclusively in workplace law and related litigation. Our attorneys are available to assist employers in their compliance efforts and to represent employers in matters before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. For more information, please contact the attorney(s) listed or the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

March 9, 2018

Calculating Overtime Value of Flat-Sum Bonus Must Be Based on Actual Non-Overtime Hours Worked, California High Court Holds

March 9, 2018

The California Supreme Court has held that, under state law, when an employee earns a flat sum bonus during a pay period, the overtime pay rate will be calculated using the actual number of non-overtime hours worked by the employee during the pay period. Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp., 2018 Cal. LEXIS 1123 (Cal. Mar. 5, 2018). In so... Read More

March 8, 2018

Colorado Law Claims for Unpaid Wages Limited to Two or Three Years Prior to Termination

March 8, 2018

Under the Colorado Wage Claim Act (CWCA), a terminated employee’s right to seek unpaid wages or compensation at termination is subject to the two- or three-year statute of limitations found in the CWCA, the Colorado Supreme Court has held. Hernandez v. Domenico Farms, Inc., 2018 CO 15 (Mar. 5, 2018). The Court also clarified that the... Read More

March 5, 2018

Massachusetts AG’s Office Issues Guidance on Equal Pay Law Set to Take Effect in July

March 5, 2018

On March 1, 2018, the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General issued its much-anticipated guidance on the state’s new pay equity law, set to take effect on July 1, 2018. The Massachusetts pay equity legislation amended the state’s Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA). Among other things, the amendment changed the definition of... Read More

Related Practices