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February 06, 2014
Supreme Court: Employers not required to pay for time putting on/taking off PPE

In a unanimous decision, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an employer does not have to pay workers for the time required to put on and take off safety gear. How does this ruling affect your workers? Keep reading to find out.

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The justices determined that time spent by unionized U.S. Steel workers “donning and doffing” protective gear is not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to labor lawyers at Fisher & Phillips, the case rested on a provision in federal law that excludes compensation for “changing clothes” before and after work unless otherwise negotiated.

Is it PPE or is it clothing?

Employees at the Gary, Indiana, steel plant were required to wear items, including protective pants, jackets, gloves, boots, hard hats, glasses, and a special hood. The workers claimed they should be paid for the time required to put on and remove these items, which they considered personal protective equipment (PPE).

But the justices agreed with lower courts based on a definition of the term “clothes” as any wearable item. As such, the time involved could not be compensated.
Observers say the ruling will make it harder for employees to seek compensation for donning and doffing time, unless it is covered in labor negotiations.  The lawyer for the employees said further litigation would likely develop over how the ruling applies in cases involving other types of protective gear, including items required to work in meatpacking and poultry processing plants.

In 2011, the poultry giant Tyson Foods was ordered to pay employees $32 million to compensate them for time spent donning and doffing gear it requires. Workers had sued Tyson in U.S. District Court, claiming that putting on the required items was part of the job.

The recent case is Sandifer v. United States Steel Corporation, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-417.

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