Employers can breathe a momentary sigh of relief as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision issued in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, a case that resolved the issue of whether employers are required to compensate their employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for time spent passing through mandatory security screenings at the close of the workday. In reversing a decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in favor of the employees, the Supreme Court ruled that such time is not compensable under the FLSA because the security screenings are not an “intrinsic element” of the activities that the employees were employed to perform and therefore do not meet the Court’s previously established “integral and indispensable” test.

The plaintiffs were employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (Integrity) who were assigned to work at an Amazon.com warehouse facility fulfilling purchase orders for Amazon’s customers. The complaint alleged that after clocking out each day, the employees were required to pass through a security screening before leaving the warehouse, which could take up to 25 minutes to complete (the length of time was disputed by the employer). The employees argued before the district court that Integrity was required to compensate them for this time because the screenings could have been shortened by Integrity so that the time spent was only de minimis, and because the sole purpose of the screening was to prevent employee theft and therefore was performed solely for the benefit of the employer and customers.

The district court dismissed the employees’ complaint, holding that the time was not compensable under the FLSA because the task of passing through the security screening was not “integral and indispensable” to the primary task of the employees — filling purchase orders. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed that decision and held that Integrity’s employees were entitled to compensation for the security screening time under the FLSA because the screenings are required by Integrity to prevent employee theft and therefore “necessary to employees’ principal work as warehouse employees and done for Integrity’s benefit.” The Ninth Circuit’s decision led to the filing of numerous class actions against employers, mostly retailers, seeking compensation for the time spent by employees undergoing mandatory security screenings and bag checks at the end of the work day pursuant to the FLSA.

In reaching its unanimous decision to reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court relied upon its precedent as well as the plain language of the Portal-to-Portal Act, which amended the FLSA to provide that employers are not required to compensate employees for activities which are considered “preliminary to or postliminary” to the principal activities which the employee is employed to perform. In prior decisions issued by the Court interpreting the Portal-to-Portal Act’s exemptions, the Court held that an activity is compensable only when it is “an integral and indispensable part of the activities for which the covered employee is employed.” For example, a class of butchers was entitled to compensation for the time spent sharpening knives, because having a sharp knife is “integral and indispensable” to the principal activity of butchering meat

Unlike the butchers who needed sharp knives to perform their jobs, the Court held in this case that passing through a security screening was simply not integral and indispensable to the principal activity that Integrity’s employees were employed to perform. Integrity did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings. Rather, they were employed to retrieve items from a warehouse shelf and place them in packages for delivery. Thus, because the screenings “were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment” the Court held that the time spent passing through the screenings was not compensable under the FLSA.

The Supreme Court’s decision should resolve the numerous class action lawsuits filed against employers seeking back pay under the FLSA in the security screening and bag check cases. However, while employers are not required to compensate their employees for time spent passing through security screenings under the FLSA, it is important to remember that state wage and hour laws may still require compensation.

For more information regarding this decision, please contact any member of Schiff Hardin’s Labor and Employment Group.