Principal Activities Test: When to Compensate
You may recall a 2014 case: Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk. Don’t recall? Need a refresher? Wondering why you should care?
2 employees brought a class action lawsuit demanding unpaid wages against Integrity Staffing Solutions, a company that provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.com. The employees claimed that they should’ve been compensated for the time spent waiting for and undergoing security screenings—approximately 25 minutes per day—under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act).
A unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employee's time spent in security screening before leaving the workplace isn’t an integral and indispensable part of the employee's principal activities.
With your employee’s day full of activities outside of their job duties, this is cause to take a closer look at their “principal activities” and what’s compensable. “Principal activities” are those that are an “integral and indispensable” element of the employees work activities. The more "integral and indispensable" the activity is – the more likely it will be considered compensable. To be considered a principal activity:
- The activity is required by the employer,
- The activity is necessary for the employee to perform his or her duties, and
- The activity primarily benefits the employer.
Types of work-related activities that are generally not found to be compensable include:
- Travel or walking time to or from the actual place where your principal work activities are performed
- Waiting time if you are waiting to engage in work or to start working
- "On-call" time when you need only to respond to a pager or telephone call
- Sleep time for a tour of duty of 24 hours or more when the time is excluded by agreement
- Meal periods when you are relieved of your regular duties
- Time spent waiting in line to punch a time clock
Types of work-related activities that are generally found to be compensable include:
- Principal activities or work directly rated to your principal activities that are performed at home
- Changing clothes or washing activities at the worksite
- Work performed before or after a shift that is "suffered or permitted;" The employer knows or has reason to know that the work is being done
- Periods of inactivity that occur during the workday
- "On-call" time when you are required to remain at or near the worksite
- Sleep time when it’s permitted by the employer or when the tour of duty is more than 24 hours
- Breaks or rest periods of 20 minutes or less
- Meal periods when you are required to work while eating at your desk or worksite
- Travel time that occurs during the workday or is required by your employer
- Time spent waiting for uniforms and instructions
- Fire drills and disaster drills
So what does this look like applied? Here are a few examples that help me understand better:
Employer Mandated Security Check Points (Case of Integrity Staffing vs. Busk)
- In this specific case, the employees were hired to perform duties in the warehouse. The employees could still perform their duties without the employer-mandated security screenings, therefore not compensable.
- Time spent by employees showering and changing clothes is considered an integral and indispensable because the chemicals are toxic,
- Time spent changing into special garments is considered integral and compensable because they’d be unable to perform job duties without the protection.
- Time spent sharpening knives utilized in the assembly line considered integral and indispensable to performing principal activity of meat packing.
The takeaway to minimize risk: any time an employee engages in unique preliminary or post work activities; consider whether or not those activities are compensable under federal and state law.
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