The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a class action over what constitutes “changing clothes” under Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Clifton Sandifer, an employee of United States Steel Corp., filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 800 hourly workers alleging the company violated the FLSA by failing to compensate the class of employees for time they spend changing their work clothes (also known as “donning and doffing”) and walking from the locker room to their workstations and back. The collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between U.S. Steel and the workers’ union does not require compensation for this time.
Under Section 203(o) of the FLSA, an employer is not required to compensate a worker for time spent “changing clothes” if that time is expressly excluded from “compensable time” under a collective bargaining agreement. Mr. Sandifer contends that the FLSA also requires employees to be paid from the time they first engage in any “principal activity,” defined as any “integral and indispensible part of the activities for which the worker is employed.” Therefore, he argues, the FLSA would require the compensation to be paid as a matter of law, thereby overriding any private contract provision to the contrary, including a CBA.
The trial court held the FLSA doesn’t require compensation for time spent changing clothes, but refused to dismiss the portion of the case seeking compensation for the travel time. Both parties appealed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which dismissed Mr. Sandifer’s case on its merits. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on the limited question of the definition of “changing clothes” as a “principle activity” under Section 203(o).
The Supreme Court weighed in on a related case in 2005 (IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez), when it unanimously held that workers in meat-processing plants were entitled to pay for the time spent walking from the changing room to the production floor. But that case didn’t involve a CBA and the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t cover the time spent changing clothes.
The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Wage & Hour Litigation Group routinely represent workers that encounter issues involving unpaid compensation in the workplace. If your employer refuses to pay for time spent donning and doffing necessary or required work clothes, call Sommers Schwartz for a free consultation.