Change Clothes On Your Own Time, Supreme Court Tells Workers

“[The] U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp. paves the way under collective bargaining agreements for the possibility of excluding time spent donning and doffing many kinds of personal protective items from the scope of federal Fair Labor Standards Act ‘hours worked’.” (John Thompson of Fisher & Phillips)

Does the Fair Labor Standards Act require employers to pay union workers for time spent changing into the protective clothing they need to do their jobs? Not when their collective bargaining agreement excludes time “donning and doffing clothing,” says the Supreme Court.

The background, from Jon Bierman and James Swartz of Polsinelli:

“In Sandifer, a group of current and former union employees of a steel plant complained that they were required to wear 12 pieces of protective gear for their work. They sought payment for the time spent ‘donning’ and ‘doffing’ the gear before and after their shifts. The District Court in Indiana and the Seventh Circuit both found the employees’ time non-compensable: Section 203(o) of the FLSA allows the parties to exclude time spent ‘changing clothes’ at the beginning or end of the workday as part of their CBA, which the Union and Employer at this facility had done.”

The workers appealed the cast to the Supreme Court. On January 27, they got their answer: a resounding “no” from a unanimous court:

“The Supreme Court … disagreed with the workers’ argument that the protective gear did not qualify as ‘clothes’ under Section 203(o), noting that ‘[w]e see no basis for the proposition that the unmodified term “clothes” somehow omits protective clothing.’ Then, the Court also rejected the employees’ argument that the donning and doffing did not qualify as ‘changing’ under Section 203(o). The Court explained that at the time of Section 203(o)’s enactment, ‘”changing’ carried two common meanings . . .: to ‘substitute’ and to ‘alter,”’ and ‘despite the usual meaning of “changing clothes,” the broader statutory context makes it plain that “time spent in changing clothes” includes time spent in altering dress.’”

For your reference, a roundup of commentary and analysis on the ruling from experts writing on JD Supra:

Read more on Sandifer v U.S. Steel Corp at JD Supra Business Advisor>>