Businesses need not compensate employees for time spent at security checkpoints at the end of their shifts, according to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk. The class-action suit before the Court claimed that Integrity Staffing Solutions, a supplier of workers for warehouses, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This case came on the heels of a number of successful “donning and doffing” lawsuits in which plaintiffs sued and recovered wage damages from employers for activities that were deemed to be integral to the performance of work activities. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously held that an employee’s compensable workday begins the moment the worker dons unique, integral, and indispensable gear or when performing an integral and indispensable task or activity associated with the worker’s employment. Furthermore, any time spent by the employee after such donning or performance is also compensable time under the FLSA. IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21 (2005).

The Facts of the Case

But where does an employer draw that line? Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. required its hourly warehouse workers to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse each day to deter theft. Employees were required to empty their pockets and pass through metal detectors. Several former employees sued claiming that they were entitled to compensation under the FLSA for the roughly 25 minutes spent each day while waiting to undergo and then undergoing those screenings.

The district court dismissed the suit, finding that the security screenings were non-compensable under the FLSA, finding that the law exempted employers from paying wages based on “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to the performance of the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed, concluding that such post-shift activities were compensable as being integral and indispensable to the employee’s principal activities and performed for the employer’s benefit.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit Court’s analysis, holding that the time that the workers spent waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings is not compensable under the FLSA: “The court of appeals erred by focusing on whether an employer required a particular activity,” Justice Clarence Thomas explained. “The integral and indispensable test is tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform.”

The Court’s majority found the security screenings were not "integral and indispensable" to the employees' work:

“…[A]n activity is not integral and indispensable to an employee's principal activities unless it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform those activities. The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment. And Integrity Staffing could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees' ability to complete their work.

The Supreme Court’s decision is clearly a significant win for this particular employer. The case is also important to all of us as it reminds employers, employees and the courts that, in interpreting the law, there is a logical line to be drawn and legal principal applied even where the facts may cloud such analysis.