In response to incidents of wage theft in the oil and gas industry, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) began a special enforcement initiative in 2012 targeting wage and hours violations at refineries, oil fields, and fracking sites. In addition to the DOL’s efforts, employees have filed lawsuits against oil companies claiming that they have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in their compensation practices.
In one such suit, a federal appeals court recently held in favor of the employer, dismissing employee claims that they should have been paid for the time spent riding buses from a remote parking lot to the refinery grounds where the employees were constructing large scaffolding.
In Bridges v. Empire Scaffold, LLC, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a lower court ruling granting summary judgment to Empire, effectively holding that pre-shift wait time is excluded from compensation under the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947.
Under that Act, two primary groups of activities are considered exempt from FLSA compensation requirements: (1) walking, riding or traveling to and from the actual place of performance of an employee’s principal activity or activities; and (2) activities which are “preliminary to or postliminary to” such principal activities.
The court in Bridges noted that “principal activities,” include those that are an “integral and indispensable part” of those activities. In this case, the principal activities of the employees were erecting and dismantling scaffolding. The court held the time employees spent waiting was not compensable because it was neither “tied to nor necessary to the erection and dismantling of scaffolding – the work that the [plaintiffs] were employed to perform.”