Donning and Doffing: paying for changing “work clothes”?

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide the Donning and Doffing issue as, how does Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) define “changing clothes.”

In Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, a class of 800 members filed a collective action against U.S. Steel Corp.  The issue on the 7th Circuit Court was whether workers deserved overtime pay for the time spent changing into work clothes and walking from locker rooms to their work site.

The FLSA ordinarily requires that workers be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, and time and a half for hours worked over 40 hours in a week.  However, Section 203(o) provides that any time spent changing “clothes” at the beginning or end of each workday may be excluded from working time by the express terms of, or custom or practice under, a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.  In Sandifer, the collective bargaining agreement did not require compensation for changing time.

In this collective action, the class argued that Section 203(o) exclusion was inapplicable because their work attire did not constitute “clothes,” but rather “safety equipment.”  The alleged work clothes in this case included: flame-retardant pants and jacket, work gloves, metatarsal boots, hard hats, safety glasses, ear plugs, and a “snood” (a hood that covers the top of the head, the chin, and the neck).

The district court held that the FLSA did not require compensation for clothes-changing time.  The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.  The 7th Circuit explained that the articles seems to be clothing.  The 7th Circuit stated that the articles of clothing were both, clothing and personal protective equipment,

Protection – against sun, cold, wind, blisters, stains, insect bites, and being spotted by animals that one is hunting – is a common function of clothing, and an especially common function of work clothes worn by factory workers.  It would be absurd to exclude all work clothes that have a protective function… and thus limit the exclusion largely to actors’ costumes and waiters’ and doormen’s uniforms.  Remember that the section covers not only clothes-changing time but also washing-up time, and workers who wear work clothes for self-protection in a dangerous or noxious work environment are far more likely to require significant time for washing up after work than a waiter.”

(emphasis added).

In addition, the 7th Circuit relied heavily on the fact that the collective bargaining agreement did not imply that workers were to be compensated for the time spent changing into work clothes, and washing up and changing back.

via Courthouse News Service.

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Filed under Appellate, civil rights, courts, employment, labor, legal decision, Supreme Court, union, wage

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