The issue of whether companies have to pay their employees for the time it takes to put on and take off safety gear is slogging its way through the federal courts. The issue will soon be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court agreed to hear a case involving U.S. Steel workers in Gary, IN, who sued to be paid for the time it takes to don and doff protective equipment.
The steel manufacturer filed a brief with the court that argues when Congress updated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) it intended for time spent putting on protective gear to be no different than changing clothes, according to Law360.
The FLSA says time spent changing clothes at the beginning and end of each work shift is excluded from pay if it’s treated as non-work time by a collective bargaining agreement.
In a brief filed in May, the workers said personal protective equipment should not be considered clothes under the FLSA. The workers say putting on PPE should only be considered changing clothes when one item is substituted for another.
In this case they argue when they put safety gear on over other clothes, they’re not changing clothes and U.S. Steel should pay them for that time.
Lower court nixed pay
This appeal comes from a decision by the Seventh Circuit Court.
The clothes in question included flame-retardent 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.
The Seventh Circuit said these items, with the exception of the glasses, ear plugs and possibly the hard hat, are both clothes and safety gear, and for that reason, workers shouldn’t get paid for the time it takes them to put them on and take them off.
As for the safety glasses, ear plugs and hard hat, the court said the time it takes to put them on is so short that it’s also not an issue. It would amount to quibbling over pay for very short periods of time.
In its opinion, the Seventh Circuit also said it wasn’t impressed with the Labor Department’s interpretation of the FLSA that states workers should be paid for the time it takes to don and doff safety gear. No word on whether the Supreme Court will consider the Labor Department interpretation in its decision. The interpretation has switched back and forth three times with the change of presidential administrations.