Monday, January 27, 2014

Breaking: SCOTUS Decides "Changing Clothes" Wage and Hour Case

This just in: The U.S. Supreme Court has decided what constitutes "changing clothes." Belive it or not, it's actually an important issue. The opinion is Sandifer v. U.S. Steel (available here).

Justice Scalia, for a unanimous court (except Sotomayor opts out of footnote 7), makes my job easy by providing a cut-and-paste-able description of the issue:
The question before us is the meaning of the phrase“changing clothes” as it appears in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 52 Stat. 1060, as amended, 29 U. S. C. §201 et seq. (2006 ed. and Supp. V). . . . Petitioners point specifically to 12 of what they state are the most common kinds of required protective gear: a flame-retardant jacket, pair of pants, and hood; a hardhat; a “snood”; “wristlets”; work gloves; leggings; “metatarsal” boots; safety glasses; earplugs; and a respirator. At bottom, petitioners want to be paid for the time they have spent putting on and taking off those objects. In the aggregate, the amount of time—and thus money—involved is likely to be quite large. Because this donning-and-doffing time would otherwise be compensable under the Act, U. S.Steel’s contention of noncompensability stands or falls upon the validity of a provision of its collective-bargaining agreement with petitioners’ union, which says that this time is noncompensable. The validity of that provision depends, in turn, upon the applicability of 29 U. S. C. §203(o) to the time at issue. That subsection allows parties to decide, as part of a collective-bargaining agreement,that “time spent in changing clothes . . . at the beginning or end of each workday” is noncompensable.
So, what's the bottom line? Does putting this stuff on and taking it off count as "changing clothes," thus allowing the parties to collectively bargain to render it noncompensable?

The short version is that almost all of that stuff sounds a lot like "clothes" to the Court. So almost everything was properly excluded as noncompensable. The Court noted that some of the stuff - safety glasses, earplugs, and a respirator - might not be "clothes." But, the Court does not require a minute-by-minute breakdown of how much time is spent on those particular items. Instead:
[I]f the vast majority of the time is spent in donning and doffing “clothes” as we have defined that term, the entire period qualifies, and the time spent putting on and off other items need not be subtracted.
Another SCOTUS labor and employment law case is in the books.