Unpaid Time in Security Checkpoint at Amazon Warehouse

The U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether off-duty employees should be paid for time spent waiting to pass through company security checkpoints.

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UPDATE: The Supreme Court decided that the employer does not have to pay workers for the time spent in security screening.

A former temporary worker at an Amazon warehouse in Las Vegas has become the poster child for the class action suit seeking back wages unpaid time. The worker, Jesse Busk, said that after completing 12-hour shifts, he and other workers waited upwards of 25 minutes – unpaid time – to pass through security screening meant to make sure they hadn’t stolen anything while on duty. Workers also lost at least 10 minutes of their half-hour lunch periods going through the screening process before they could enter the cafeteria.

The temporary agency Busk worked for, Integrity Staffing Solutions, did not pay the workers for the time spent waiting, even though it was required as a condition of employment.

What is a Compensable Workday?

In the case of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, the Supreme Court will determine whether the time workers spend waiting at anti-theft checkpoints are part of a compensable workday. Busk’s case hinges on the argument that the anti-theft screening process was an “integral and indispensable” part of the warehouse employees’ workday that is meant to serve the benefit of the employer, not the employees.

Previously the U.S. Courts for the Ninth Circuit determined that Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. must compensate employees for time spent in security screenings conducted after their work shift. The workers, the court found, sufficiently alleged that the security screen process was “integral and indispensable” to their principal activities, and therefore is part of the compensable workday.

In other words, the circuit court ruled that the workers should be paid for their waiting time.

Now the Supreme Court will need to add clear direction around certain sections of the FLSA that seemingly compete with one another. For example, § 785.16 generally defines off duty as “periods during which an employee is completely relieved from duty and which are long enough to enable him to use the time effectively for his own purposes.” Waiting in line at a security checkpoint before being free to leave the employment location may not qualify as being off duty. However under the “Portal-to-Portal Act” (29 U.S. Code § 254), workers are not entitled to compensation for time spent:

“(1) walking, riding, or traveling to and from the actual place of performance of the principal activity or activities which such employee is employed to perform, and

(2) activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to said principal activity or activities, which occur either prior to the time on any particular workday at which such employee commences, or subsequent to the time on any particular workday at which he ceases, such principal activity or activities.”

Additionally, the FLSA notes that any time spent by employees “changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday” is excluded from paid time.

Why Do Companies Force Some Employees Through Security Checkpoints?

According to a brief filed in the case by the Retail Litigation Center, employees steal $16 billion in cash and goods from their workplaces each year in the retail industry alone. They argue that paying for screening would put an undue cost burden on employers that would force them to stop screening and thereby suffer further losses inflicted by thieving employees.

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