FLSA Fashion: DOL Administrator’s Interpretation of “Changing Clothes”

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It may seem odd, but what constitutes “clothes” and “changing clothes” matters under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Section 3(o) of the FLSA says time spent “changing clothes” at the beginning or end of the workday does not have to be paid, as long as the express terms or custom or practice under a collective bargaining agreement would not pay for that time.

The Department of Labor has not always provided clear direction regarding the Section 3(o) exception. From 1997 to 2001, during President Clinton’s administration, the DOL took the position that personal protective equipment (“PPE”), especially that in certain safety-sensitive jobs, was not clothes; so, donning and doffing of PPE was compensable time and not subject to the exception. From 2002 to 2007, during President George W. Bush’s administration, the DOL reversed itself. On June 16, 2010, under President Obama’s administration, the DOL returned to its earlier position, as revealed in the second Administrator’s Interpretation, 2010-2. Fashion follows the trendsetter (or the President).

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