Supreme Court Decides: Employer Not Required to Pay Employees for Time Spent in Security Checks

by Susan G. Fentin

Early in October, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk.   The Court didn’t waste any time reaching a decision on this case:  today, it issued its decision ruling that companies do not have to pay employees for the time they spend undergoing security checks at the end of their shifts.

Integrity Staffing maintains facilities in Nevada where merchandise for Amazon is processed and shipped.  Because of concerns about employee pilferage, Integrity requires all employees to go through a security screening at the end of their shift, a process that can take up to a half hour a day.  The issue before the Court was whether the security check process was “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ principal activities: under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act, employers generally need not compensate employees for pre- and post-shift activities, unless the activities are integral and indispensable to their work.  Integrity had argued that, if security time were to be considered compensable, then employees would have a strong incentive to delay their passage through the security screening process in order to pad their paychecks.

The case came to the Supreme Court from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that passing through security stations was done for Integrity’s benefit and was necessary, not ancillary, to the employees’ principal duties as warehouse workers.   The unanimous decision, authored by Justice Thomas, overturned the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and concluded that the screening process is not a “principal activity” of the workers’ jobs and therefore is not compensable.  The Court held that, for workers to be paid, the activity must be an “intrinsic element” of the workers’ job duties, “one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activity.”  Justices Sotomayor and Kagan issued a concurring opinion to stress that the Court’s decision was in line with regulations from the Department of Labor.  The administration had supported the position of the employer in this case, agreeing with Integrity that the security checks were not central to the warehouse work and were, instead, more similar to waiting in line to punch out on a time clock, an activity that the Court has previously ruled non-compensable.

This case is in line with the Court’s decision last term in Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, where a majority ruled that the time spent putting on and taking off certain protective gear was not compensable.

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