Supreme Court Defines “Clothes” for Wage and Hour Purposes
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates minimum wage and hour requirements for employees in the United States. A recurring question in employment cases involves whether employees must be paid for time changing into or out of clothes required for the performance of their job. Section 203(o) of FLSA specifically states that employees should not be paid for time spent changing clothes or washing, if a collective bargaining agreement states these activities are not included in the work day.
A recent case out of the Seventh Circuit challenged the meaning of “clothes” in the above mentioned FLSA provision. In Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., the employees were not compensated for time spent changing clothes due to their collective bargaining agreement. In the lawsuit, however, the employees alleged that the extensive protective gear they had to put on to work in the hazardous steel plants were not actually “clothes,” and they should therefore be paid for the time-consuming process of donning and doffing the gear. Their required gear included:
· Flame-retardant jacket
· Flame retardant pants
· Flame-retardant hood
· Wrist guards, called “wristlets”
· Neck guard, called a “snood”
· Work gloves
· “Metatarsal” boots
· Safety glasses
The district court and Court of Appeals against the employees, and the case made its way all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Supreme Court decision
To come to its decision, the Supreme Court took an in-depth look at the traditional definition of the word “clothes.” According to dictionaries from the time of the enactment of FLSA, the Court determined that clothes are “items that are both designed and used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of dress.” The Court found that the articles of protective gear that took the most time to put on, such as jackets, pants, leggings, and boots, fit under the definition of “clothes,” and therefore employees should not be compensated for such dressing time. Though the Court found that the safety glasses and earplugs were not “clothes,” it decided that the time spent putting on such equipment was so small that compensation should not be considered.
As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, U.S. Steel and other companies do not have to compensate employees for donning or doffing such protective gear if a collective bargaining agreement
applies. Companies should look at the Court’s definition of “clothing” and make sure their policies are in compliance.
If you are an employer or an employee and you have any questions or concerns regarding the new Supreme Court guidance or any other wage and hour issue, do not hesitate to contact the experienced
employment attorneys at the offices of HKM for help today.