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Supreme Court: Security Screening Time Not Compensable under FLSA

  • December 10, 2014

Unanimously reversing the Ninth Circuit court of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that time spent by warehouse workers undergoing security screenings was non-compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act because that time did not constitute a “principal activity” nor was it “integral and indispensable” to the workers’ other principal activities. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, No. 13-433 (Dec. 9, 2014).

The Court explained that an activity is “integral and indispensable” to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform only 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.” The Court found this test was not met because undergoing a security screening was not an intrinsic element of the workers’ principal activities of pulling products from warehouse shelves and packing them for shipment, and the security screenings were not “indispensable” to their work because the employer could have eliminated the security screenings without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work. 

The Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s test which improperly looked only at whether the duty was required and performed for the benefit of the employer.

The Court rejected the argument that security screenings should be treated differently than safety screenings, citing a 1951 Department of Labor opinion letter addressing both pre-shift safety screenings and post-shift anti-theft screenings, where, the Court held, the Department then “drew no distinction between the searches conducted for the safety of the employees and those conducted for the purpose of preventing theft—neither were compensable under the Portal-to-Portal Act.”

Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the 9-0 opinion for the Court, with a concurrence from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. 

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