Thursday, December 11, 2014

No one gets paid for security screenings at Amazon

Have I told you lately how complicated the Fair Labor Standards Act is? It basically says that employees must be paid for the work, and that some employees are eligible for overtime. But it says more than that, as shown by the many court rulings that apply the FSLA in a million different ways. This time around, the Supreme Court asks whether workers can get paid for the 25-minute security checks when they leave the warehouse to ensure they are not stealing anything.

The case is Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, decided by the Supreme Court on December 9. This decision was written by Clarence Thomas. Before you charge the conservatives on the Court with further hostility toward the working man, bear in mind that this was a unanimous ruling. The basic facts are these: "Integrity Staffing required its employees to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse at the end of each day. During this screening, employees removed items such as wallets, keys, and belts from their persons and passed through metal detectors."

A word or two about employee theft. When I worked at a supermarket back in high school, there were no security cameras or security checks. One guy happily filled up a shopping cart with stuff and rolled it right out the front door. Another guy clocked in early and then went back outside to the gym to lift weights. Management has gotten smarter over the years. Security cameras are now trained on every cash register in every supermarket and big-box store in America. Employee handbooks tell you in 20 point type that you are an at-will employee who can be fired for any reason or for no reason at all. The Amazon warehouses are mammoth. These security checks are in place to ensure that employees and temp workers do not rob the place blind.

Should the employees be paid for the time they have to pass through security screening to satisfy management that they are not stealing anything? Your initial impression would be that this is compensable time, as this seems a work-related requirement and the employees are not free to leave the workplace until they comply with the security screening.

Under the law, the employees don't have to be paid for "activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to said principal activity or activities.” Do these "postliminary" screenings fall within this exception? The Court says they do. Justice Thomas explains, "An activity is ...integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities."

The employees are not paid for this. "The screenings were not the 'principal activity or activities which [the] employee is employed to perform.' Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.” In addition, "The security screenings also were not 'integral and indispensable' to the employees’ duties as warehouse workers."  

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