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When workers must wear special gear, beware lawsuit if you don’t pay for ‘donning & doffing’

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources,Overtime Labor Laws

To managers earning big paychecks, a few hundred dollars per year may not seem like a big deal. But to workers earning close to minimum wage, those same dollars can be worth fighting for.

That’s one reason employees who believe they haven’t been properly paid for the time they spend getting into and out of protective gear are engaging lawyers and filing class-action lawsuits.

Recent case: Luisa Perez and several hundred other workers at a chicken processing plant sued to be paid for the time they spent before and after each shift getting into and out of smocks, gloves and other protective gear.

The company argued that even if the workers spent an extra 10 minutes every day on such activities, it wasn’t a considerable amount of money and should not be included in paid hours.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

It said the workers earned about $10 per hour, so the additional 10 minutes per day added up to almost a full day’s pay about every two months. That was significant.

Plus, it was clear that the workers had no choice but to wear the gear for safety and sanitation reasons, and their employer controlled how they dressed and undressed. (Perez, et al., v. Mountaire Farms, No. 09-1917, 4th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Whether “donning and doffing” is compensable time depends on the industry, the equipment and the plant layout. To play it safe, consult your attorney.

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