Amazon.com Security Checks Not Compensable Time, Supreme Court Holds

The U.S. Supreme Court held, in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk (Dec. 9, 2014, Justice Thomas) that the time spent by Amazon.com warehouse workers undergoing anti-theft security screening before leaving the warehouse each day is not compensable time under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In sum:

[A]n activity is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform—and thus compensable under the FLSA—if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities. Because the employees’ time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing Integrity Staffing’s security screenings does not meet these criteria, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

The Court interpreted and applied a portion of the FLSA, known as the “Portal-to-Portal Act”, codified at 29 U.S.C. § 254(a). That statute provides:

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) [which covers work compensable by contract or custom], no employer shall be subject to any liability or punishment under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, … on account of the failure of such employer … to pay an employee overtime compensation, for or on account of any of the following activities of such employee engaged in on or after the date of the enactment of this Act—

(1) walking, riding, or traveling to and from the actual place of performance of the principal activity or activities which such employee is employed to perform, and

(2) activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to said principal activity or activities,

which occur either prior to the time on any particular workday at which such employee commences, or subsequent to the time on any particular workday at which he ceases, such principal activity or activities.

(Emphasis added.)

The Court interpreted the term “principal activity or activities” as “embrac[ing] all activities which are an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities.” (Emphasis added.) Furthermore, “[a]n activity is therefore integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.”

Having identified the proper legal standard, the court then applied it to the facts, concluding that the “security screenings at issue here are noncompensable postliminary activities.” It reasoned:

To begin with, the screenings were not the “principal activity or activities which [the] employee is employed to perform.” 29 U.S.C. § 254(a)(1). Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.

The security screenings also were not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ duties as warehouse workers. [A]n activity is not integral and indispensable to an employee’s principal activities unless it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform those activities. The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment. And Integrity Staffing could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.

It was incorrect to focus on whether an employer requires a particular activity, since “[t]he integral and indispensable test is tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform” and that “[i]f the test could be satisfied merely by the fact that an employer required an activity, it would sweep into ‘principal activities’ the very activities that the Portal–to–Portal Act was designed to address.” A test dependent on “whether the activity is for the benefit of the employer is similarly overbroad.”

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