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Ninth Circuit Rules That Employer Must Pay Workers for Putting On and Taking Off Safety Gear

Volume 2, Issue 12
September 16, 2003

The Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled that, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer in the meatpacking industry must pay its employees for the time they take to put on and take off the specialized safety gear required for their jobs, as well as the time it takes for employees to walk to and from the changing area to their work stations. Under what is known as the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947, many types of activities that are preliminary or postliminary to an employee's principal work activities can go uncompensated. However, the court determined that the specialized safety equipment was required to be worn by company policy and federal law, thereby rendering such activities as "integral and indispensable" to the employees' primary work assignments and compensable under federal law. In so ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court affirmed most of a $3.1 million trial court decision in favor of the employees.

The court did recognize that even when such pre and post-work activities are "integral and indispensable" to an employee's primary work tasks, if there is only a de minimis amount of time (a few seconds or a few minutes) associated with putting on and taking off non-unique protective gear, such as safety goggles or hard hats, employers will not be required to compensate employees for such time. However, in the meat packing industry more cumbersome and specialized safety equipment is required, including Kevlar gloves, mesh clothing, face shields, as well as liquid repelling sleeves and leggings, which take longer than a de minimis amount of time to put on and take off.

Only time will tell how broadly the Ninth Circuit Court will apply the holding in this case. However, if your company has employees that are required to wear specific types of safety gear, whether pursuant to company policy or by law, and the safety gear takes more than a few seconds or minutes to put on and take off, employers should consider whether or not there is a legal obligation to pay employees for their time involved with these tasks.

Alvarez v. IBP, Inc., 339 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2003)

Employer Report articles are for general information only; they are not intended and should not be construed to be legal advice. Reading or replying to such articles does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In addition, because the subject matters and applicable laws discussed in Employer Report articles are often in a state of change and not always applicable to every type of business entity or organization, readers should consult with counsel before making decisions based on the same.