‘Donning and doffing’ remains FLSA flashpoint

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Employers, beware: Attorneys representing employees are still filing Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuits. That’s bad news for employers that don’t stay on top of the intricacies of the law. The fact is, the law is still developing and employers that don’t keep up will be caught.

Consider the following case involving the seemingly old question of “donning and doffing” clothing and gear before and after clocking in.

Recent case: Ronald Farris sued Riverside County on behalf of himself and his co-workers. Farris is a constable, a job that requires wearing a uniform and carrying lots of equipment. Farris and his colleagues claimed they spend significant time putting on and taking off their gear before and after work. Testimony showed that one group of constables spent nine minutes putting on and taking off uniforms, 11 minutes dealing with equipment and another 13 minutes prepping patrol cars. Those tasks took a little less time for another group.

Regardless, the county argued that the time is minimal, and thus exempt from the calculation of hours worked under the FLSA. The standard for so-called de minimis time spent starting and stopping work is 10 minutes, so the narrow question that the court had to consider was whether the time spent dressing, dealing with equipment and preparing cars should be considered separately or together.

The court concluded the activities should be considered separately and said only those activities taking 10 minutes or more needed to be counted as paid time. (Farris v. County of Riverside, No. 05-6166, CD CA, 2009)

Final note:
It pays to check whether employees are spending more than a few minutes putting on and taking off uniforms or specialized equipment. This is especially true for employees who earn near the minimum wage, because mishandling before- and after-work activities could mean they wind up earning less than minimum wage.

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