Once again, a federal court has taken up the question of whether employers have to pay workers for their time spent putting on and taking off safety gear. In this case, the employer has lost the initial round in court.
About 280 employees sued Mountaire Farms in Delaware, claiming that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires companies to pay for that time.
Mountaire asked the court to throw out the case.
The court refused to grant the company’s request, so the case will now go to trial. And the court’s opinion seems to set the stage for an eventual outcome in favor of the employees.
In denying summary judgment in favor of the company, the judge wrote, “As an initial matter, I find the donning and doffing of PPE to be ‘work’ because these activities require physical and mental exertion controlled and required by defendants [the company].”
Ultimately, the judge said the question of whether donning and doffing in this case is compensable will be left up to the trial. “Donning and doffing many or most, if not all, of these items could well be determined at trial to be integral and indispensable to chicken processing if doing so is required by defendants’ own internal rules as well as federal law.”
In this case, all employees are required to wear ear plugs, bump caps, lab coats, hair/beard nets, steel-toed rubber boots and nitrile/latex/rubber gloves. Some workers wear additional safety gear such as safety glasses and cut-resistant gloves. The PPE is required by the Food and Drug Administration and OSHA regulations.
The court is relying on a two-part test used in a previous federal lawsuit (Alvarez). Donning and doffing of unique and non-unique protective gear are “integral and indispensable” if doing so is:
- necessary to the principal work performed, and
- done for the benefit of the employer.
Cite: Perez v. Mountaire Farms, Inc., U.S. Dist. Crt. D. MD, No. AMD 06-121, 3/9/09.