Workers sue to be compensated for the time spent changing clothes and showering at the end of each work shift. Do they win? You be the judge.
Maintenance workers at two paper mills owned by Domtar Industries claimed their clothes, skin and hair were regularly exposed to hazardous chemicals such as calcium oxide (aka lime dust).
To reduce exposure to these chemicals, the workers shower and change after their shifts. They usually aren’t compensated for this time.
The workers filed claims for overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Domtar said it has a policy that requires employees who’ve been exposed to a hazardous chemical to immediately remove any affected clothing and wash the area. The company pays employees for the time spent changing clothes and showering when they have definitely been exposed to a hazardous chemical. If that time is after their regular shift ends, they are paid OT.
However, Domtar refused to pay for time showering just because employees might have been exposed.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Alvarez case that an employee can be compensated for washing up or changing clothes if those activities are “integral” and “indispensable” to the worker’s job.
To support their argument, the employees noted:
- the potential for them to get lime dust on their work clothing and skin
- occasions when an employee was unaware that chemicals were on him until he got home, and
- times when there has been a delayed reaction to being exposed to chemicals.
The court threw out the lawsuit. Reason: The court said the employees’ claims were based on their speculation that they may have hazardous chemicals on their skin. Their argument failed because it was based on speculation and not on evidence. It didn’t pass the “integral” and “indispensable” test set up by the Supreme Court.
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Cite: Musch v. Domtar Industries, U.S. Circuit Crt. 7, No. 08-4305, 11/25/09. Download opinion here (PDF).