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Must employees be paid for time spent getting ready for work?

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act set a minimum wage and overtime compensation for each hour worked over a 40-hour workweek. However, Congress also passed the Portal-to-Portal Act that exempts wages for certain activities.

Traveling to and from the place of performance of the principal activities that the worker is employed to perform is exempt. The second exclusion is more complicated. This consists of activities that occur before or after employee's principal activities at the beginning or end of any workday. An activity is integral and indispensable if it is an intrinsic element of the principal activities and which employees cannot dispense with if they are to perform their principal activities.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court found that battery-plant employees should be paid for time spent showering and changing clothes because the plant chemicals were toxic and these activities were indispensable for the employees to their work. Likewise, meatpacking employees had to be paid for sharpening their knives to keep up with production.

However, workers are not entitled to wages for changing clothes and showering before and after work if those actions are not directly related to the employee's work. Checking in and out of work and waiting in line to receive paychecks are also exempt from wages for this reason. Searches conducted for employee safety and for preventing theft are also considered exempt from wages under the Portal-to-Portal Act.

Late last year, the Supreme Court ruled that a firm that provides warehouse staffing to Amazon throughout the United States was not required to pay its warehouse workers for time spent undergoing daily anti-theft security screenings before leaving the warehouse. The screenings occurred after work and were not part of the principal activities that the workers are employed to perform.

Although these screenings were required, they were not an intrinsic element of the employee's work of retrieving products. If the screenings were eliminated, the employees could still perform their work.

Legal assistance can help avoid employment disputes and assure compliance with FLSA and Minnesota's wage laws, which may also govern this issue. Prompt legal advice should be sought on this issue and other commercial disputes.

Source: Supremecourt.gov, "Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., 574 U.S.__ (2014)," Accessed on Feb. 24, 2015

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