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Preparing for work: Pay depends on rules, employer benefit

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Do your employees have to put on special uniforms or equipment before beginning work? If the law or your company policy requires it, chances are the time spent getting in and out of the clothing or equipment should be paid time.

Recent case: A group of poultry workers sued Tyson Foods, claiming they should have been paid for the time they spent getting into protective clothing before work, before and after breaks and at the end of their shifts. The trial court said it was up to the jury to decide whether the time was work, and it also should consider whether the workers exerted themselves physically or mentally to get ready for work or to leave.

But the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. It concluded that two factors mattered:

  1. Whether the clothing was required by law or the employer.
  2. Whether putting on or taking off the protective equipment benefited the employer.

It sent the case back for the lower court to determine whether the time should be paid or was so minimal it couldn’t be called work. (Asencio, et al., v. Tyson Foods, No. 06-3502, 3rd Cir., 2007)

Final note: It’s safest to pay employees for all time spent getting into and out of uniforms unless you allow them to get dressed and undressed at home. While per worker the time may amount to minutes, when multiplied by all employees, the numbers grow. 

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