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When are Preliminary and Postliminary Compensable? Supremes to let us Know (Maybe).

There are lots of preliminary of postliminary activities that could be occurring in your workplaces. I am hopeful that this case will provide employers needed guidance on the compensability of these activities.

March 4, 2014

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, to answer the following question (via SCOTUSblog):

"Whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act."

“What does this mean,” you ask? In Busk, the plaintiffs claimed their employer illegally failed to compensate them for the time they spent passing through a required security check at the end of each shift. According to the plaintiffs, employees waited up to 25 minutes to be searched; removed their wallets, keys, and belts; and passed through metal detectors. They claimed that the checks were “necessary to the employer’s task of minimizing ‘shrinkage’ or loss of product from warehouse theft.”

The FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act, generally, precludes compensation for activities that are preliminary or postliminary to the employees’ principal activities. Preliminary and postliminary activities—those that are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal activities—are compensable. To be “integral and indispensable,” an activity both must be (1) necessary to the principal work performed and (2) done for the benefit of the employer.

In Busk, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that the security clearances were necessary to their primary work as warehouse employees and done for their employer’s benefit. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing the wage-and-hour claim.

This case is the second in as many years that the Supreme Court will hear on this issue. Earlier this year, in Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, the Court concluded that the time employees spent donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) their protective gear was not compensable under their collective bargaining agreement.

There are lots of other examples of preliminary of postliminary activities that could be occurring in your workplaces besides putting on and taking off protective gear, or security screenings. For example, your employees might spend time logging on to their computers before their work days officially begin. Or they might spend time at the end of their shifts transitioning to the next shift. I am hopeful that Busk will provide employers needed guidance on the compensability of these activities.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.  For more information, contact Hyman at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com. Follow Hyman on Twitter at @jonhyman.