Supreme Court Decides What it Means to “Change Clothes”

by Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC
Contact

And you thought the U.S. Supreme Court only decided weighty issues. Actually, in the context of a unionized workforce, the Court’s decision in Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp. is a positive development for employers, but for employers of non-unionized workforces the opinion is potentially troublesome.

The facts are straightforward. Employees at U.S. Steel were required to spend unpaid time each day putting on and taking off protective clothing such as flame-retardant suits and gloves, protective boots, hard hats, safety glasses, ear plugs, respirators, etc. The employees argued that the time was compensable and filed a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act on behalf of several hundred former and current employees. U.S. Steel, however, pointed to §203(o) of the FLSA and a provision in the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with the employees’ union in which the union agreed that “time spent in changing clothes...was not compensable.”

The Court parsed the phrase “changing clothes”, first finding that “clothes” included protective clothing – “We see no basis for the proposition that the unmodified term ‘clothes’ somehow omits protective clothing.” The Court then focused on the word “changing,” finding that it meant any time spent “altering dress.” Thus, the Court agreed with U.S. Steel that time spent by employees altering their dress by putting on or taking off protective clothing was not compensable under the terms of the CBA and §203(o) of the FLSA – a positive development for employers of unionized workforces with CBA’s containing similar language.

However, the Court addressed another argument of U.S. Steel – that so little time was spent putting on and taking off protective clothing each day that it was de minimis (i.e., insignificant) and thus should be non-compensable. The de minimis doctrine has been successfully used by employers to deflect FLSA liability for over 50 years. The Court sounded a death nell for the de minimis doctrine in the context of a CBA with a unionized workforce – “[the] de minimis doctrine does not fit comfortably within the statute at issue here, which, it can fairly be said, is all about trifles...” and that “there is no more reason to [apply the doctrine] to disregard the minute or so necessary to put on glasses, earplugs, and respirators, than there is to [reject the doctrine and compensate] the minute or so necessary to put on [protective clothing].” It is unclear whether other courts will extend this reasoning to other types of FLSA claims (i.e., missed meal breaks, computer boot up and shut down time, improper rounding of recorded time, etc.) in non-unionized workforces and thereby greatly expand the potential liability of most employers for trifling underpayments of wages and for the associative significant legal fees of employees’ counsel.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC
Contact
more
less

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.
Feedback? Tell us what you think of the new jdsupra.com!