Warehouse employees spend their days lifting, moving, loading and unloading sometimes heavy merchandise. It is not an easy job. They might be cranky at the end of the day. And when, after their shift, they need to stand in line for close to a half hour for a security screening on their way out of the warehouse, they get crankier yet. And when they do, they demand to be paid for the time spent standing in line. And when their demands are declined, they might sue.
Employers may be confronted with these kinds of demands in a wide variety of industries. Employees’ commutes are not part of their paid time, of course. But things like donning safety gear or standing in line for an after-shift security screening generate many disputes and much litigation.
The Supreme Court took up the warehouse case in an effort to clarify. Only time spent on tasks that are indispensable for the employee’s principal activity is compensable, it said. And waiting in line for a security screening, while desired and indeed required by the employer, is not indispensable to the task of schlepping merchandise in a warehouse.
Like many areas of law, answers to seemingly simple questions can hinge on factual details, and consulting an attorney often can be the ounce of prevention that will spare employers a pound of cure.