Working After You Clock Out? What You Need to Know About the FLSA
An employee clocks out but he’s not allowed to leave until he removes and stows his protective gear. Twenty minutes later, he’s finally cleared to head to the parking lot.
A staffer eats lunch at her desk. In between bites, she answers phone calls and greets visitors.
These are just two of many scenarios that employees may encounter that blur the lines between paid work time and unpaid time. Often, staffers are left wondering if they’re entitled to be paid for working during breaks or after they clock out.
That’s what happened to Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, who were employees in one of Amazon.com’s warehouses.
Busk and Castro were frustrated at the amount of time they had to spend on company property after they’d clocked out. For example, passing through security before exiting the premises often took a solid 25 minutes. After waiting in line, employees were expected to remove wallets and keys from their pockets, take off their belts, and pass through metal detectors so the company could ensure they hadn’t stolen any of the warehouse merchandise.
On top of that, they had to spend about 10 minutes of their lunch breaks going through a similar set of security steps.
After repeatedly calculating the amount of unpaid time they’d spent on these procedures, Busk and Castro decided to contact a lawyer. They sued for wage violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
A Judges’ Ruling from the Highest Court
The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The employees’ lawyer argued that Busk and Castro should’ve been paid for time spent in security lines, because that activity was performed solely for the employer’s benefit.
The company countered that the time shouldn’t be compensable, because the activity wasn’t one of the principal job functions that the employees had been hired to perform. That is, the activity could’ve been removed entirely, and the workers still would’ve been able to perform their jobs.
The Supreme Court sided with the company. It decided that the time spent in security lines did not have to be paid, according to the Portal-to-Portal Act of the FLSA. The Portal-to-Portal Act states that employees generally do not have to be paid for traveling to or from the actual place where they perform their principal activities, or on time spent on incidental activities before or after principal job duties.
(The case discussed here is Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., v. Busk, et al.)
What Counts as Paid Time?
While Busk and Castro weren’t successful in court, their case spotlights the potential for confusion about compensable time under the FLSA.
Other common FLSA matters that often lead to disputes include the following questions:
Should the employee who has to answer phones during his or her lunch break be compensated for that time?
Should the employee who is forced to travel to another city for one day be paid for travel time?
How should an employee who has to travel for several days be compensated?
Should employees who have to wait for work to begin, such as firefighters, be paid for time prior to starting work?
This FLSA fact sheet provides some guidance, but it’s important to keep in mind that individual circumstances can factor heavily into whether employees should be compensated for certain types of tasks.
Contact the Murphy Law Group Now for a Free Consultation
If you questions or concerns about your compensation under the FLSA, it’s best to speak to an attorney.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.