The question of whether companies are required to pay employees for the time it takes them to put on and take off required safety gear is still complicated. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a pass on a case, leaving in place a lower court ruling.
Kraft Foods requires employees who prepare meat products at its Oscar Mayer plant in Madison, WI, to wear safety gear such as steel-toed boots, hard hats and hair nets.
A local unit of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Kraft had agreed through bargaining that this time is not compensable. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows unions and management to trade off the number of compensable hours against the wage rate. In other words, workers get more per hour in exchange for excluding time for such things as putting on safety gear.
Some Kraft workers disagreed with the tradeoff struck in their collective bargaining agreement and want the time included at the higher hourly rate that the union negotiated.
The workers argue that Wisconsin state law doesn’t have the collective bargaining exception that’s included in the FLSA.
Kraft claims the FLSA preempts Wisconsin’s law.
The case went to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. It ruled that the FLSA did not preempt Wisconsin law and that the workers should be paid for the time spent putting on and taking off safety gear.
Kraft appealed the Seventh Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court denied Kraft’s petition to hear the case, so the appeals court decision stands. (Note: The decision only applies to states in the region served by the Seventh Circuit.)
Kraft will reportedly begin paying 1,300 current and former employees about $4 million in back pay.
You can read the Seventh Circuit’s decision here.
What’s the best way to handle whether workers get paid for the time to put on and take off required safety gear? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.