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No pay due for time spent putting on standard safety gear

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In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major decision on the applicability of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to paying workers for the time they spend putting on and taking off safety gear. Since then, employers have been understandably nervous about when to start paying employees and when to stop. Given the explosion of collective-action FLSA cases and the prospect of double damages, it’s not a mistake you want to have happen on your shift.

Now, a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decision has clarified the matter. As the case shows, employers generally don’t have to pay for the time employees spend preparing for their workday, such as waiting in security lines or putting on generic headgear and work boots.

They only have to pay if the safety equipment is specialized and an integral part of the work the employees have been hired to perform.

Recent case: James Gorman and several other employees at a nuclear power plant sued to recover payment for time they claimed should have been paid time under the FLSA.

Before the employees could perform the tasks they were hired to perform, they had to spend between 10 and 30 minutes per day passing through security and suiting up with goggles, safety boots and a helmet.

Even so, that time was not paid time, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The court likened it to commuting or other preparatory time, and said it was not the sort of activity that was “integral and indispensable” to the primary work activity they would perform. (Gorman, et al., v. Entergy Nuclear Operations, No. 05-6546, 2nd Cir., 2007) 

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