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U.S. Supreme Court Issues Decision In Class Action Tyson Foods Case

Volume 15, Issue 6
April 7, 2016

On March 22, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, a case we discussed in November. This is an overtime case under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) where a group of plaintiffs sought to recover wages for time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment ("donning and doffing") before and after their shifts.

To recover damages, each plaintiff needed to prove that the amount of time spent donning and doffing, when added to his or her regular hours, amounted to more than 40 hours in a given week. However, Tyson Foods did not keep records of how much time its employees spent donning and doffing. As such, the plaintiffs relied upon "representation evidence" - including a study performed by an industrial relations expert. Using videotaped recordings of employees donning and doffing protective equipment, the expert analyzed how long on average donning and doffing took for a sampling of employees. The plaintiffs then added that average to each individual worker's recorded working time to determine which employees worked over 40 hours each workweek.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument of Tyson Foods and others that representation evidence should not be permitted in class action cases. The Court ruled that such evidence may be used when it is reliable and otherwise admissible. This is especially the case where an employer has failed to keep proper records, and the employees have no other way to prove how much time they worked without compensation.

This case demonstrates how important it is for employers to keep good records of employees' time, both on and off the clock. Even if you are not paying employees for certain activities, having a record of how much time is actually spent on those activities is invaluable. The records you keep may prevent a challenge from even going forward into litigation, if you are able to prove that the time being spent is negligible and did not cause an employee to incur unpaid overtime. Moreover, as demonstrated by the Tyson Foods case, the absence of such records creates a proof vacuum employees will fill with generalizations and samplings that may not be accurate for each employee. This result will typically increase an employer's exposure to damages.

KZA 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.