One thing is for sure on the issue of whether workers should be paid for the time it takes them to put on or take off safety gear: There are enough court cases on the subject. Now, it seems the courts are reaching a consensus on this issue, despite an opinion by the U.S. Department of Labor.
In the most recent case, United States Steel workers sued to be paid for the time it takes them to put on what they considered to be safety gear.
The clothes/gear consisted of flame-retardant pants and jacket, work gloves, steel-toe boots, hard hats, safety glasses, ear plugs, and a “snood” that covers the top of the head, chin and neck.
Are they clothes or protective gear? If they’re clothes, then the Fair Labor Standards Act is pretty clear that workers don’t get paid for changing into or out of work clothes. But if they’re safety gear, workers might be paid for the donning and doffing time.
In this case, the Seventh Circuit Court said they’re both, with the exception of the glasses, ear plugs and possibly the hard hat. The court says even ordinary clothes provide protection against the sun, wind, cold, etc. For that reason, the workers would not be paid for putting on most of what they wear for their jobs.
What about the glasses, ear plugs and hard hats? The court says since they don’t take much time to put on, they’re also not an issue. It would amount to quibbling over pay for very short periods of time.
The Seventh Circuit didn’t stop there. It also weighed in on the Labor Department’s interpretation that personal protective gear is not included in the definition of clothes, therefore workers should be paid for putting on and taking off PPE.
The court noted the Department’s opinion has swung back and forth depending on the presidential administration. The Clinton and Obama administrations’ Labor Departments said workers should be paid for the time it takes to don and doff PPE. In between, the Bush administration said the opposite.
The Seventh Circuit is not impressed, it seems. It said the current Labor Department doesn’t offer anything that might help the court to decide the case therefore it doesn’t take the current administration’s opinion into account.
This does seem to be where federal appeals courts are lining up on this issue. In most cases, the courts have said there is nothing in the law that requires workers to be paid for time it takes to change into or out of clothes.
And in any of the cases in which a possible exception is held out for protective gear, the courts have defined such gear very narrowly.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
(Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, Nos. 10-1821, 10-1866, 5/8/12)