By: Debbie Sandler and Stephanie A. Kobal

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended (“FLSA”), establishes a minimum wage and overtime compensation for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours each workweek.  Any employer who violates the FLSA can be held civilly liable for back pay, liquidated damages and attorney’s fees. 

In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk et al., the employer required its warehouse employees to undergo antitheft security screenings before leaving the warehouse each day.  On average, the employees alleged that they spent approximately 25 minutes each day in security screening.  The employees alleged that under the FLSA, they were entitled to compensation for the time spent waiting to undergo and actually undergoing the security screenings.  The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the time that workers spent waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings is not compensable under the FLSA.  

For time to be compensable under the FLSA, the activity in question must be integral and indispensable to the principal activity that an employee is employed to perform; an activity that the employee cannot dispense with if he is to perform his principal activity. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote on behalf of the Court, found that the security screening process was not a “principal activity” of the employees’ job of retrieving products from the warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment. For workers to be paid, the activity in question must be “an intrinsic element” of the job and “one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities,” Thomas wrote. On this basis, the Court held that the time spent in the security screening process was not compensable under the FLSA.

This decision unquestionably is a win for employers because it further narrows the categories of work that are covered by the FLSA. The Court’s ruling also eliminates the potential that employers could be liable for billions of dollars in retroactive pay for employees seeking pay for time spent in security checks.  It is important to note, however, that the Court’s ruling does not necessarily preclude workers from pressing similar claims under state law.  Due to the technical nature of the FLSA and the interpretation of the statute and its regulations, employers are encouraged to consult with counsel on specific issues.