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8th Cir.: Where Employer’s Change to Workweek Was Permanent, “Legitimate Business Purpose” Not Required

Abshire v. Redland Energy Services, LLC

Following an order granting the defendant-employer summary judgment, the plaintiff appealed. At issue was whether the employer’s permanent change to its workweek- for the stated purpose of reducing overtime hours worked by its employees- violated the FLSA. The lower court held that the purpose behind the employer’s change to its workweek was irrelevant, so long as the change was intended to be permanent. Affirming the award of summary judgment, the Eighth Circuit agreed.

The facts were relatively straight-forward and not in dispute. The defendant-employer changed the designation of its workweek from Tuesday-to-Monday to Sunday-to-Saturday for employees who worked 12 hour shifts for seven consecutive days from Tuesday to Monday, followed by seven days off. The change was intended to and did result in fewer hours calculated as overtime.

Initially, the court explained that an employer may pick any contiguous 168 hours as its workweek. The court then explained:

Having concluded that the FLSA does not prescribe how an employer must initially establish its “workweek” for overtime purposes, we come to the issue raised in this case—whether the FLSA limits an employer’s freedom to change an existing workweek designation. Again, § 778.105 of the Department of Labor’s regulations directly addresses the issue: “The beginning of the workweek may be changed if the change is intended to be permanent and is not designed to evade the overtime requirements of the Act.” This sentence makes one limitation clear—a change must be “intended to be permanent.” But that is not at issue here. Appellants have never challenged Redland’s contention that the May 2009 change in the oil rig operators’ workweek was intended to be permanent. Rather, Appellants argue that Redland’s change violated § 207(a)(1) because it was made for the purpose of reducing the number of hours in their normal work schedules that must be paid at the overtime rate, and therefore it was “designed to evade the overtime requirements of the Act.”

The caution that a workweek change may not be designed to evade the requirements of § 207(a)(1) has been part of the Department of Labor’s interpretive pronouncements since the FLSA was first enacted. See Department of Labor, Interpretative Bulletin No. 4, ¶ 3 (Nov. 1, 1938), cited in Harned, 192 S.W.2d at 380. It was an understandable caution in advising how this initially controversial Act would be construed and applied. Many early FLSA cases dealt with payroll plans devised to evade the Act’s new payroll expense obligations. For example, in an early case applying § 207(a), the Supreme Court invalidated a “split-day” compensation plan “so designed as to deprive the employees of their statutory right to receive [overtime pay] for all hours worked in excess of the first regular 40 hours.” Walling v. Helmerich & Payne, Inc., 323 U.S. 37, 40, 65 S.Ct. 11, 89 L.Ed. 29 (1944). That decision is now codified in the regulations. See 29 C.F.R. § 778.501(a). But the Department has never interpreted its general caution that changes to the workweek may not be “designed to evade the overtime requirements,” nor has it attempted to clarify what constitutes “evasion.”

Citing an Illinois Minimum Wage Law case as authority, the court rejected the plaintiff’s assertion that an employer may not make a change to its workweek absent a “legitimate business purpose” (i.e. just to reduce overtime hours/pay):

The precise issue before us was presented, and Appellants’ contention persuasively rejected, in a case applying overtime requirements of the Illinois Minimum Wage Law for which administrative regulations including 29 C.F.R. § 778.105 had been adopted. Kerbes v. Raceway Assocs., LLC, –––Ill.App.3d ––––, 356 Ill.Dec. 476, 961 N.E.2d 865, 870 (2011). In Kerbes, the racetrack employer changed its designated workweek so as to split racing event weekends into two different workweeks, eliminating overtime pay for its part-time hourly employees. Concluding that an employer’s right to establish a workweek was “well-settled” by the above-cited cases, the court further concluded the racetrack’s modification of its workweek did not violate the overtime requirements of the FLSA…. [T]he FLSA does not require a workweek schedule that maximizes an employee’s accumulation of overtime pay. Thus, a schedule whereby an employee’s actual work schedule is split between two workweeks does not violate the federal legislation. If such a schedule does not itself violate the FLSA, we fail to see how a change to such a schedule could be viewed as having been “designed to evade the overtime requirements of this Act.” Id., 356 Ill.Dec. 476, 961 N.E.2d at 872. We agree with this reasoning.

Appellants argue that a workweek change intended to reduce hours of overtime earned is contrary to the purposes of the FLSA’s overtime requirements and is therefore “designed to evade” those requirements. We disagree. Appellants’ assumption that an original purpose of the FLSA was to maximize the payment of overtime rates is contrary to more contemporary authority. See Missel, 316 U.S. at 578, 62 S.Ct. 1216 (“In a period of widespread unemployment and small profits, the economy inherent in avoiding extra pay was expected to have an appreciable effect in the distribution of available work.”). Thus, an employer’s effort to reduce its payroll expense is not contrary to the FLSA’s purpose. Moreover, Christensen v. Harris Cnty., 529 U.S. 576, 585, 120 S.Ct. 1655, 146 L.Ed.2d 621 (2000), clearly teaches that courts may not imply a prohibition that cannot be found in the Act. Cases involving other FLSA requirements illustrate this principle. For example, in Lamon v. City of Shawnee, 972 F.2d 1145, 1153 (10th Cir.1992), the court concluded that a public employer’s new workweek adopted to take advantage of an FLSA amendment did not violate the Act “[e]ven if [the employer’s] sole purpose were to avoid the prospect of paying overtime rates.” And in Morehead v. City of Pearl, 763 F.Supp. 175, 176 (S.D.Miss.1990), the court noted that a scheduling change intended to reduce overtime hours was not “an evasion” of the overtime requirements; it was “straight-up avoidance” of overtime that the FLSA does not require be paid.

We reject Appellants’ contention that an employer’s permanent change in the designated workweek violates § 207(a)(1) unless it is justified by a “legitimate business purpose.” So long as the change is intended to be permanent, and it is implemented in accordance with the FLSA, the employer’s reasons for adopting the change are irrelevant. Accordingly, whether Redland in fact adopted the change in question to achieve administrative efficiencies in calculating and paying wages and overtime, and if so, whether that was a “legitimate business purpose” justifying the change, were not genuine disputes of material fact that precluded the grant of summary judgment in favor of Redland. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

Thus, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment for the defendant.

Given the clear language of the CFR regulation that an employer’s change to a workweek must not be “designed to evade the overtime requirements of the [FLSA],” and the defendant’s acknowledgement here that its change was explicitly made to reduce overtime pay to its employees, while having them work the same number of hours, the Eighth Circuit’s holding is somewhat curious. At least for now however, the Eighth Circuit is the only Circuit to have pondered the issue.

Click Abshire v. Redland Energy Services, LLC to read the entire Opinion.

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6th Cir.: Although Changing Into PPE At Food-Processing Plant Is “Changing Clothes” and Excluded Under 203(o), It Is A Principle Activity And Begins The “Continuous Workday”

Franklin v. Kellogg Co.

This case was before the Sixth Circuit on appeal from the order at the court below granting Defendant summary judgment in all respects with regard to Plaintiff’s claims that she was entitled to be paid for changing into required personal protection equipment (“PPE”) each day, before she could perform their work on Defendant’s plant floor.  The Court affirmed the lower court’s holding that time spent changing into the PPE could be properly excluded by continued practice under 203(0), but remanded the case to determine whether there was significant time the that elapsed after the donning of the PPE, before Plaintiff was put “on the clock,” because such time was compensible under the “continuous workday” if it was not deemed de minimus.

The Court reasoned:

“B. Post-Donning/Pre-Doffing Walking Time

Franklin argues that if we conclude that her time spent donning and doffing the uniform and equipment is excluded under § 203(o), she is still entitled to compensation for her time spent walking between the locker room and the time clock, because those activities are “principal activities.” Under the “continuous workday” rule, “the ‘workday’ is generally defined as ‘the period between the commencement and completion on the same workday of an employee’s principal activity or activities.’ “ IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21, 29 (2004) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 790.6(b)). In addition, “during a continuous workday, any walking time that occurs after the beginning of the employee’s first principal activity and before the end of the employee’s last principal activity is … covered by the FLSA,” and must be compensated. Id. at 37. Principal activities are those that are an integral and indispensable part of the activities which the employee is employed to perform. See Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U.S. 247, 256 (1956).

1. Does Exclusion Under § 203(o) Affect Whether an Activity is a Principal Activity?

One court recently explained that “[t]he courts have taken divergent views” on the issue of whether activities deemed excluded under § 203(o) may still constitute “principal activities.” In re Tyson Foods, Inc., 694 F.Supp.2d 1358, 1370 (M.D.Ga.2010). Some courts have concluded that time that is excluded under § 203(o) may still be a “principal activity,” because § 203(o) only addresses the compensability of the time, not whether it is integral and indispensable. See, e.g., id. at 1371 (“After considering both of these positions, the Court concludes that § 203(o) only relates to the compensability of time spent donning, doffing, and washing of the person and that it does not mean that § 203(o) tasks cannot be considered principal activities that start the continuous workday.”); Andrako v. U.S. Steel Corp., 632 F.Supp.2d 398, 413 (W.D.Pa.2009) (“Section 203(o) relates to the compensability of time spent donning, doffing, and washing in the collective-bargaining process. It does not render such time any more or less integral or indispensable to an employee’s job.”); Gatewood v. Koch Foods of Miss., LLC, 569 F.Supp.2d 687, 702 (S.D.Miss.2008) (“Although the act of ‘changing clothes’ itself is barred based on § 203(o) …, the activities that occur after changing into sanitary gear and before changing out of sanitary gear are not impacted by the defense.”); Figas, 2008 WL 4170043, at *20 (“[T]he character of donning and doffing activities is not dependent upon whether such activities are excluded pursuant to a collective-bargaining agreement.”). In contrast, some courts-including the district court presiding over the instant case-have concluded that “once an activity has been deemed a section 3(o) activity, it cannot be considered a principal activity.” Sisk v. Sara Lee Corp., 590 F.Supp.2d 1001, 1011 (W.D.Tenn.2008); see also Salazar v. Butterball, LLC, No. 08-cv-02071-MSK-CBS, 2009 WL 6048979, at * 14 (D.Colo. Dec. 3, 2009) (following Sisk); Hudson v. Butterball, LLC, No. 08-5071-CV-SW-RED, 2009 WL 3486780, at *4 (W.D.Mo. Oct. 14, 2009) (“Because time [plaintiff] spent sanitizing, donning, and doffing is excluded from hours worked under § 203(o), the walking time did not follow or precede a principal work activity, and therefore is not compensable.”). Although the latter position was consistent with the 2007 Opinion Letter, the June 16 Interpretation rejected that position and concluded that “clothes changing that is covered by § 203(o) may be a principal activity.” Compare 2007 Opinion Letter with June 16 Interp.

We agree with the courts that have taken the position that compensability under § 203(o) is unrelated to whether an activity is a “principal activity.” Accordingly, we must consider whether time spent donning and doffing the standard equipment and uniform is integral and indispensable to Franklin’s job.

2. Integral and Indispensable

Kellogg asserts that even though it requires its employees to wear these items, changing into them is not “integral and indispensable” under the FLSA. In Steiner, the Supreme Court concluded that changing into protective gear before beginning the shift and showering and changing out of the protective gear at the end of the shift was an integral and indispensable part of employment at a battery-manufacturing plant. 350 U.S. at 256 (“[I]t would be difficult to conjure up an instance where changing clothes and showering are more clearly an integral and indispensable part of the principal activity of the employment than in the case of these employees.”) The Court did not address whether “changing clothes and showering under normal conditions” was integral and indispensable to the principal activity of work, and it did not explicitly hold that changing clothes and showering can only be integral and indispensable when the working environment was toxic or lethal. See id. at 249, 256. Nonetheless, at least one court applying Steiner has made that distinction. See Gorman v. Consol. Edison Corp., 488 F.3d 586, 594 (2d Cir.2007). In Gorman, the Second Circuit held that donning and doffing of protective gear-helmet, safety glasses, and steel-toed boots-was not integral and indispensable to employment at a nuclear power plant. Id. It distinguished Steiner because “the environment of the battery plant could not sustain life-given the toxic substances in liquid, solid, powder, and vapor form (and in the dust of the air) that ‘permeate[d] the entire [battery] plant and everything and everyone in it.’ “ Id. at 593 (quoting Steiner, 350 U.S. at 249) (alterations in original). It interpreted Steiner narrowly for the proposition “that when work is done in a lethal atmosphere, the measures that allow entry and immersion into the destructive element may be integral to all work done there.” Id. However, under Gorman, when such a lethal environment is not present and the gear is not literally required for entry into the plant, donning and doffing gear is not integral.

The Second Circuit’s position appears to be unique. The Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have both interpreted Steiner less narrowly. For example, relying on 29 C.F.R. § 790.8(c), the Ninth Circuit explained that “ ‘where the changing of clothes on the employer’s premises is required by law, by rules of the employer, or by the nature of the work,’ the activity may be considered integral and indispensable to the principal activities.” Ballaris v. Wacker Siltronic Corp., 370 F.3d 901, 910 (9th Cir.2004), quoting Mitchell v. King Packing Co., 350 U.S. 260, 262-63 (1956) (holding that changing into and out of plant uniforms was integral and indispensable to the principal activities because the employer required its employees to wear the uniforms and doing so was performed for the benefit of the company); see also Alvarez, 339 F.3d at 902-03 (“To be ‘integral and indispensable,’ an activity must be necessary to the principal work performed and done for the benefit of the employer.”). Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit held that the following three factors are relevant to the issue of whether an activity is integral and indispensable: “(1) whether the activity is required by the employer; (2) whether the activity is necessary for the employee to perform his or her duties; and whether the activity primarily benefits the employer.” Bonilla v. Baker Concrete Constr., Inc., 487 F.3d 1340, 1344 (11th Cir.2007) (concluding that time spent going through security screening made mandatory by the FAA was not integral and indispensable because it was not for the benefit of the employer). We follow the reasoning of Ballaris and Bonilla.

Under the broader interpretation of integral and indispensable, donning and doffing the uniform and equipment is both integral and indispensable. First, the activity is required by Kellogg. Second, wearing the uniform and equipment primarily benefits Kellogg. Certainly, the employees receive protection from physical harm by wearing the equipment. However, the benefit is primarily for Kellogg, because the uniform and equipment ensures sanitary working conditions and untainted products. Because Franklin would be able to physically complete her job without donning the uniform and equipment, unlike the plaintiffs in Steiner, it is difficult to say that donning the items are necessary for her to perform her duties. Nonetheless, considering these three factors, we conclude that donning and doffing the uniform and standard equipment at issue here is a principal activity. See IBP, Inc., 546 U.S. at 37 (“[A]ny activity that is ‘integral and indispensable’ to a ‘principal activity’ is itself a ‘principal activity.’ ”) Accordingly, under the continuous workday rule, Franklin may be entitled to payment for her post-donning and pre-donning walking time. Because there are questions of fact as to the length of time it took her to walk from the changing area to the time clock and whether that time was de minimis, however, we reverse and remand to the district court for further consideration of this issue.”

To read the entire opinion, click here.

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M.D.Tenn.: Even If Time Spent Donning And Doffing A Uniform Is Non-Compensable Under § 203(o), It Might Still Start The Workday Under § 254(a) And The Continuous Workday Rule

Arnold v. Schreiber Foods, Inc.

Before the court was the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendant Schreiber Foods, Inc.  The Court granted the defendant’s motion in part and denied in part.  Of interest, while the Court determined certain time donning and doffing clothes was properly excluded from Plaintiffs’ compensable time under § 203(o), it held that such time spent donning and doffing clothes may still constitute the first activity integral to the Plaintiffs’ principle activities and start the so-called continuous workday, requiring Defendant to compensate Plaintiffs for all time spent after donning such clothes.

In discussing the applicability of § 203(0), to exclude time Plaintiffs spent “changing clothes,” the Court explained that, “[t]he defendant’s plant is unionized, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (“UFCW”) is the exclusive bargaining agent for all hourly employees. In September 2004, Schreiber and the UFCW negotiated a new collective-bargaining agreement. One of the UFCW’s proposals was for Schreiber to compensate employees for time spent donning and doffing uniforms at the beginning and end of the workday. After further negotiation, this proposal was withdrawn, and it was not included in the final agreement. The same thing happened when the two sides negotiated a new agreement in 2008.”

The Court next addressed Plaintiff’s argument that “because their workday begins when they don their uniforms and ends when they doff them, post-donning and pre-doffing ‘travel and waiting time’ is compensable” explaining that: 

“Under the continuous workday rule, the workday begins at the commencement of the employee’s “principal activities,” which include activities that are an “ ‘integral and indispensable part of the principal activities.’ ” IBP, 546 U.S. at 30 (quoting Steiner, 350 U.S. at 252-53). The factors relevant to determining whether an activity is integral and indispensable are (1) whether the activity is required by the employer, (2) whether the activity is necessary to the employee’s principal activities, and (3) whether the benefit of the activity inures primarily to the employer. Jordan v. IBP, Inc., 542 F.Supp.2d. 790, 808 (M.D.Tenn.2008) (citing Alvarez, 339 F.3d at 902-03;Bonilla v. Baker Concrete Constr., Inc., 487 F.3d 1340, 1344 (11th Cir.2007)). “The changing of clothes may be considered integral and indispensable to an employee’s principal activities ‘where the changing of clothes on the employer’s premises is required by law, by rules of the employer, or by the nature of the work.’ ” Id. (quoting Ballaris v. Wacker Siltronic Corp., 370 F.3d 901, 910 (9th Cir.2004)).

Here, it is at least a question of fact whether the act of donning and doffing uniforms is integral and indispensable to the plaintiffs’ job.  It is undisputed that Schreiber requires its employees to wear clean uniforms, as mandated by Tennessee state regulations. See Tenn. Dep’t of Agric. Rule 0080-3-3-.04(5) (requiring that dairy plant employees who engage in the “manufacturing, packaging, or handling dairy products” wear “[c]lean white or light-colored washable outer garments”). Employees are required to don the uniforms at Schreiber’s plant, and the benefit of the sanitary uniforms to Schreiber is obvious-it allows the company to create uncontaminated food products. Numerous cases involving similar circumstances have found that donning and doffing uniforms can be an integral and indispensable activity. E . g., Jordan, 542 F.Supp.2d at 810 (finding that it was integral and indispensable for meat processing plant employees to don and doff safety and sanitary gear); Johnson v. Koch Foods, Inc., No. 2:07-CV-51, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106058, at *28-30 (E.D.Tenn. Nov. 13, 2009) (finding a question of fact as to whether donning and doffing safety and sanitary gear was integral and indispensable for chicken processing plant employees); Gatewood v. Koch Foods of Miss., LLC, 569 F.Supp.2d 687, 696-98 (S.D.Miss.2008) (same). A reasonable jury could find that, under the continuous workday rule, the plaintiffs’ workday starts when they don their uniforms and ends when they doff them.

‘[D]uring a continuous workday, any walking time that occurs after the beginning of the employee’s first principal activity and before the end of the employee’s last principal activity is excluded from the scope of [§ 254(a) ], and as a result is covered by the FLSA .’ IBP, 546 U.S. at 37. Each day, Schreiber employees spend time walking and waiting (1) after donning their uniforms but before clocking in, and (2) after clocking out but before doffing their uniforms. Disregarding § 203(o), and assuming that donning and doffing is integral and indispensable, this walking and waiting time is compensable.

This raises two questions. The first is whether § 203(o) affects the compensability of the plaintiffs’ walking and waiting time.  Courts are split on this issue. Some courts have held that when donning and doffing “is excluded from hours worked under § 203(o), [post-donning and pre-doffing] walking time [does] not follow or precede a principal work activity, and therefore is not compensable.”   Hudson v. Butterball, LLC, No. 08-5071-CV-SW-RED, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104649, at *1 1 (W.D.Mo. Oct. 14, 2009); see also Sisk v. Sara Lee Corp., 590 F.Supp.2d 1001, 1011 (W.D.Tenn.2008) (“[O]nce an activity has been deemed a section 3(o) activity, it cannot be considered a principal activity.”) This accords with the Department of Labor’s current view that “activities covered by section 3(o) cannot be considered principal activities and do not start the workday.”  U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Wage & Hour Div. Advisory Op. Ltr. No. FLSA2007-10.

 A greater number of courts, however, have held that determining what constitutes a “principal activity” and determining what constitutes “changing clothes” are separate inquiries. Even if time spent donning a uniform is non-compensable under § 203(o), it still might start the workday, making subsequent activities compensable under § 254(a) and the continuous workday rule. See Sandifer, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96715 at *40 (“The court can’t conclude as a matter of law that the non-compensability … under [§ 203(o) ] excludes consideration of whether, pursuant to [§ 254(a) ], those activities are an integral and indispensable part of the employees’ principal activities….”); Andrako v. United States Steel Corp., 632 F.Supp.2d 398, 412-13 (W.D.Pa.2009) (“Section 203(o) relates to the compensability of time spent donning, doffing, and washing in the collective-bargaining process. It does not render such time any more or less integral or indispensable to an employee’s job.”); Johnson, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106058 at *32 (“[I]f the donning, doffing, and washing excluded by § 203(o) are determined by the trier of fact to be integral and indispensable, those activities could commence the workday.”); Gatewood, 569 F.Supp.2d at 702 (“Although the statute precludes recovery for time spent washing and ‘changing clothes,’ it does not affect the fact that these activities could be the first ‘integral and indispensable’ act that triggers the start of the continuous workday rule for subsequent activities….”); Figas v. Horsehead Corp., No. 06-1344, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87199, at *66-67 (W.D.Pa. Sept. 3, 2008) (“The Court is not convinced that § 203(o) changes the ‘principal’ nature of donning and doffing activities, or that ‘principal’ activities somehow become ‘preliminary’ or ‘postliminary’ under the Portal Act simply because they are rendered noncompensable by a collective-bargaining agreement in accordance with § 203(o).”).

The court agrees that this is the best way to reconcile the application of § 203(o) with Supreme Court precedent. In IBP, the Supreme Court made it clear that the continuous workday starts upon the employee’s first principal activity. 546 U.S. at 29, 37. Logically, whether an activity counts as “changing clothes” under § 203(o) does not necessarily affect whether it is a principal activity.  One court found it odd that the uncompensated act of changing clothes might convert an employee’s subsequent, otherwise-non-compensable activity into compensable activity. Sisk, 590 F.Supp.2d at 1011. But this oddity diminishes as the period of the subsequent activity grows longer. For example, if an employer required employees to don uniforms in a company locker room and then spend 30 minutes traveling to a work site, it would not seem “illogical,” id., to require the employer to pay for the travel time. The court finds that § 203(o) does not bar the plaintiffs from receiving compensation for post-donning and pre-doffing activities. 

The second question is whether the plaintiffs’ walking and waiting time is noncompensable because it is de minimis. “When the matter in issue concerns only a few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours, such trifles may be disregarded. Split-second absurdities are not justified by the actualities of working conditions or by the policy of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” Mt. Clemens Pottery, 328 U.S. at 692.

Courts look to three factors in deciding whether otherwise compensable time is de minimis: “1) the practical administrative difficulty of recording the additional time; 2) the size of the claim in the aggregate; and 3) whether ‘the claimants performed the work on a regular basis.’ “ Brock v. City of Cincinnati, 236 F.3d 793, 804 (6th Cir.2001) (quoting ( Lindow v. United States, 738 F.2d 1057, 1062-63 (9th Cir.1984)). Although there is no rigid mathematical rule, “[m]ost courts have found daily periods of approximately 10 minutes de minimis even though otherwise compensable.” Lindow, 738 F.2d at 1062;see also Von Friewalde, 339 Fed. Appx. at 454. “The burden is on the employer to show that the time consumed by the activity is de minimis.” Gilmer v. Alameda-Contra Costa Transit Dist., No. C 08-05186, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3405, at *24 (N.D.Cal. Jan. 15, 2010) (citing Rutti v. Lojack Corp., Inc., 578 F.3d 1084, 1095 n .11 (2009)).

As explained earlier, § 203(o) covers the plaintiffs’ clothes-changing activities through the time that they retrieve and don their hairnets, beard nets, and earplugs. According to the plaintiffs’ declarations, “[o]nce the Workers retrieve their hairnets, beard nets (if applicable), and ear plugs, the Workers clock-in.” (E.g., Docket No. 42, Ex. 1 ¶ 12). The hairnet, beard net, and earplug dispensers are located approximately 40 feet from the time clocks. (Docket No. 36, Ex. 1.) Although it seems unlikely that this journey takes a significant amount of time, it is possible that employees are forced to wait for some period of time before clocking in. The defendant has not presented evidence directly addressing this matter, so it has not met its burden of showing that the walking and waiting time is de minimis. Therefore, the court cannot dismiss this aspect of the plaintiffs’ claim at this stage.”

Not discussed here, the Court denied Defendant’s Motion to the extent they sought a finding that time Plaintiffs spent sanitizing their boots should be excluded.

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5th Cir.: Notwithstanding The Language of § 203(o), Actual Bargaining Is Not Necessary In Order To Find That A “Custom or Practice” Exists Under § 203(o); Pattern Of Non-Compensation Sufficient

Allen v. McWane Inc.

This collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), on behalf of hourly employees of McWane, Inc., sought payment for pre-and post-shift time spent donning and doffing protective gear.  The district court granted summary judgment on the basis that at each plant there existed a custom or practice of not compensating pre- or post- shift time spent putting on and taking off protective gear.  Despite the clear language of the statute, the Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that absent any evidence that the parties had ever actually discussed or agreed during collective bargaining, that such time would not be compensable, any employer who has consistently failed to compensate employees for otherwise compensable work time may utilize the limited exception of § 203(o), thus barring employees’ claims seeking payment for such time.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s arguments based on the plain reading of § 203(o), stating, “Allen argues that here the facts do not establish a ‘custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement’ that would make changing time non-compensable.  Allen claims that compensation for the pre- and post-shift changing time is a pre-existing right under the FLSA, subject to exclusion only if it has been affirmatively bargained away in CBA negotiations; i.e., negotiation of whether to pay for pre- and post-shift changing time must be shown before the court may conclude that there was a custom or practice as provided in § 203(o). According to Allen, there has been no acquiescence or waiver here because the union representatives did not have knowledge of the right to compensation for this pre- and post-shift changing time, nor any knowledge of or acquiescence to a policy of nonpayment for that time.

This court addressed a related issue in Bejil: whether employees had a right to compensation for changing time where the union and the employer had discussed that very question during CBA negotiations, but the CBA ultimately remained silent on the matter. 269 F.3d at 480. We concluded that such silence in the CBA, after the parties negotiated over the matter, resulted in a “custom or practice” of not compensating the employees for the changing time, and therefore § 203(o) barred claims for back wages for such time. Id. Here, unlike in Bejil, there was no discussion of whether McWane should compensate the Allen plaintiffs for such clothes changing time.

The Third and Eleventh Circuits have considered the specific question of whether § 203(o) requires the employees and employer to have discussed the issue of compensation for pre- and post-shift changing time, where the CBA is silent on the issue, in order to find that a custom or practice of nonpayment existed pursuant to a CBA. The Third and Eleventh Circuits concluded that it was not necessary for the issue to have been raised in negotiations. Anderson v. Cagle’s, Inc., 488 F.3d 945, 958-59 (11th Cir.2007); Turner v. City of Philadelphia, 262 F.3d 222, 226 (3d Cir.2001).

Turner presented the following uncontested facts: (1) Philadelphia had not compensated corrections officers for uniform change time for over 30 years; (2) every CBA between Philadelphia and the officers had been silent as to compensation for change time; (3) the union president proposed at labor management meetings with Philadelphia’s Labor Relations Administrator that change time be made compensable, but the union did not make this request in formal CBA negotiations; (4) the union did, however, ask for and receive a uniform maintenance allowance; and (5) the union never filed a grievance or demanded arbitration based on the non-compensability of change time. Turner, 262 F.3d at 225.

The Turner plaintiffs made an argument similar to the one articulated by Allen, that “a ‘custom or practice’ of non-compensability cannot come into being unless (1) the issue of compensability is specifically raised in formal collective bargaining negotiations, and then (2) dropped by the negotiators.” Id. at 226. Rejecting this approach, the Third Circuit held that the plaintiffs and their union had acquiesced to the municipal government’s thirty-year policy of not compensating for changing time. Id. at 227. The court explained:

We think that plaintiffs interpret the phrase “custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement” too narrowly, placing undue emphasis on the clause “under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement” while virtually reading the clause “custom or practice” out of § 203(o). In essence, plaintiffs construe “custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement” as “custom or practice established through formal collective bargaining negotiations.” To the contrary, we view the phrase as simply restating the well-established principle of labor law that a particular custom or practice can become an implied term of a labor agreement through a prolonged period of acquiescence.  Id. at 226. The Turner court also rejected the argument that the plaintiffs had an antecedent right to payment under the FLSA such that they could not acquiesce to non-compensation without the issue being negotiated, noting that § 203(o) itself defines what work time is encompassed by that right to payment. Id. at 226-27.

In Anderson, the employer had not compensated the employees for time spent donning and doffing protective gear for approximately ten years. 488 F.3d at 958. Additionally, the court assumed for purposes of its decision that every CBA during the relevant time period had been silent as to compensation for changing time, and assumed that the parties had never discussed the policy. Id. at 958. The Anderson court followed Turner, also rejecting the argument that a custom or practice under § 203(o) cannot exist unless the parties negotiated about the non-compensation policy. Id. at 958-59. “Relying again on a common sense understanding of the statute’s language, we believe that a policy concerning compensation … for clothes changing, written or unwritten, in force or effect at the time a CBA was executed satisfies § 203(o)‘s requirement of a ‘custom or practice under a bona fide’ CBA.” Id. “Absence of negotiations cannot in this instance equate to ignorance of the policy. Rather, it demonstrates acquiescence to it.” Id. at 959.

The Eleventh Circuit noted that the issue in Anderson was not controlled by the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Hoover v. Wyandotte Chemicals Corporation, 455 F.2d 387 (5th Cir.1972). In Hoover, another action to recover overtime pay under the FLSA, this court held that employees were not entitled to additional compensation for the extra eight to ten minutes of clothes changing time that they requested during collective bargaining negotiations, but which was not incorporated into the executed CBA. Id. at 388. The custom and practice of the employer for approximately fifteen years had been to pay for fifteen minutes of changing time. During the most recent CBA negotiations, pay for 23-25 minutes of time had been requested but not adopted. Hoover held that the request did not change the custom or practice, which was to pay only for fifteen minutes of changing time. Id. at 389. Although the employer had agreed to pay for changing time, where the employees raised the issue during CBA negotiations but there was no change in practice by the employer or change to the CBA on the issue, the relevant custom of non-payment for clothes changing time over fifteen minutes remained unaltered.

Allen both criticizes the reasoning of Turner and Anderson and tries to distinguish them. Allen observes that in Anderson the plaintiffs did not contend that they lacked notice of the relevant compensation policy, whereas here the employees and their union representatives were unaware of the potential for compensation under the FLSA. 488 F.3d at 959. However, neither Turner nor Anderson address the employees’ awareness of the law, much less find it to be a controlling factor in their holding. Anderson merely observed that the plaintiffs were aware that the company had a policy of not paying for pre- and post-shift clothes changing time. Id. Similar facts were present in Turner. 262 F.3d at 225. Both courts concluded that silence by the employees and their union as to the non-compensability of this time when the CBAs were executed meant that a custom or practice of nonpayment was established pursuant to a CBA, and thus the time was not to be calculated as “hours worked” under § 203(o).

Allen relies heavily on the reasoning employed by Kassa v. Kerry, Inc., 487 F.Supp.2d 1063, 1071 (D.Minn.2007). In Kassa, the defendant moved for summary judgment based on § 203(o). The court voiced its agreement with Turner, and determined that § 203(o) may apply even where non-payment for changing time was never raised in negotiations. The court then identified three elements as essential to determine the existence of a “custom or practice” under § 203(o): time, knowledge, and acquiescence. Id. at 1070-71 (relying on Detroit & Toledo Shore Line R.R. Co. v. United Transp. Union, 396 U.S. 142, 154 (1969)). Kassa assigned the burden to the defendant to show that “its policy of non-compensation for clothes-changing time lasted for a sufficiently long time, with sufficient knowledge and acquiescence by [the] employees, that the policy became an implicit term-a ‘custom or practice’-under the CBA.” Id. at 1071. In Kassa, the record established that the non-payment by defendant had occurred for six years and the union had never complained about non-payment when executing the CBA. Id. The district court found this insufficient as a matter of law to establish a custom or practice, and denied summary judgment.

Allen also relies on the Supreme Court’s statement in Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 740 (1981), that “FLSA rights cannot be abridged by contract or otherwise waived….” Barrentine addressed whether employees at a union-organized plant operating under a CBA could sue their employer for violations of the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA. The CBA in Barrentine required the employees to submit the claim to a grievance committee; when they did so, the committee rejected their claims. The Court held that the right to sue for the violation of the FLSA could not be abridged or waived. Id. at 740. There is a significant distinction between the minimum wage provision at issue in Barrentine and the application of § 203(o) in the instant case: the FLSA rights at issue in Barrentine are independent of the collective bargaining process. Id. at 745. By contrast, under § 203(o) the right to be paid for pre- or post-shift changing time may be abridged by contract-a bona fide CBA. See also Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 131-32 (1994) (addressing question of meaningful bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act, referring to § 203(o) of the FLSA as an example of a “narrowly drawn opt-out provision,” and noting employees have full protection of the minium standard “absent any agreement for something different”).

We are persuaded by the reasoning of the Third and Eleventh Circuits, and join them in holding that even when negotiations never included the issue of non-compensation for changing time, a policy of non-compensation for changing time that has been in effect for a prolonged period of time, and that was in effect at the time a CBA was executed, satisfies § 203(o) ‘s requirement of “a custom or practice under a bona fide” CBA. See Anderson, 488 F.3d at 958-59 (policy of non-compensation had been in place for at least ten years); Turner, 262 F.3d at 226 (policy of non-compensation had been in place for thirty years). In such instances, regardless of whether the parties negotiated regarding compensation for changing time, acquiescence of the employees may be inferred. By contrast, where there have been no relevant negotiations and the facts do not demonstrate that a policy of non-compensation for changing time has been in effect for a prolonged period of time, other evidence of knowledge and acquiescence by the employees will be required. See Gatewood v. Koch Foods of Miss., 569 F.Supp.2d 687, 698-700 (S.D.Miss.2008) (holding that even in the absence of a long-standing tradition of non-compensation or negotiations for compensation of time spent changing clothes, “when employees and union representatives are conclusively aware of the facts surrounding compensation policies for changing clothes at the beginning and end of each workday, and reach an agreement under a CBA that does not compensate employees for the time, a ‘practice’ exists under the CBA sufficient to invoke the § 203(o) defense”).

Thus, as long as there was a company policy of non-compensation for time spent changing for a prolonged period of time-allowing the court to infer that the union had knowledge of and acquiesced to the employer’s policy-and a CBA existed, the parties need not have explicitly discussed such compensation when negotiating the CBA. McWane “only need prove that the parties had a ‘custom or practice’ of non-compensation under the agreement.” Bejil, 269 F.3d at 479. It is undisputed that McWane has never compensated its employees for changing time, going as far back as 1965. After more than forty years of non-compensation, we may safely infer that McWane’s employees had knowledge of and acquiesced to the policy of non-compensation. Therefore, we conclude that McWane has demonstrated a “custom” of non-compensation for changing time.”

Interestingly, the Court noted that the parties had stipulated that the time spent donning and doffing personal protective equipment was synonymous with “changing clothes” and thus potentially waivable, creating the narrow issue before the Court.  Inasmuch as there are recent decisions from around the country falling on both sides of this issue (i.e. some finding such time not to constitute “changing clothes”) the Court’s holding may have limited application going forward, because if the disputed time was not time spent “changing clothes” 203(O) would have no applicability.

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4th Cir.: Because Donning and Doffing of Protective Clothing Constitutes “Changing Clothes,” Compensability of Such Time is Waivable, Under § 203(o), By Collective Bargaining Agreement

Sepulveda v.  Allen Family Foods

Deciding an issue that has divided courts across the country, the 4th Circuit held that, because the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment (PPE) constitutes “changing clothes,” the right to be compensated for such time may be collectively bargained away in a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

“Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 seq.bargaining to exclude “any time spent in changing clothes. . . at the beginning or end of each workday” from compensable work time. § 203(o).   In this case, we are asked to determine whether the donning and doffing of protective gear at a poultry processing plant constitutes “changing clothes” within the meaning of Section 203(o).  We conclude that it does.  Consequently, the employer and union here may—as they currently have—exclude donning and doffing from compensable work time.”

Realizing the factually intensive nature of most, if not all so-called donning and doffing cases, the Court noted that its decision did not mean that the donning and doffing of such PPE was not compensable time, stating “[o]ur holding, of course, does not mean that employees should not be paid for time spent donning and doffing protective gear. Instead, it simply recognizes that the purpose of Section 203(o) is to leave this issue to the collectivebargaining process. Employers and unions are free to determine for themselves how much compensable time should be allocated and for what activities of “changing clothes.” This sort of fact-intensive determination has classically been grist for the mill of collective bargaining, and Congress ensured that employers and unions could keep it that way by enacting Section 203(o).” 

To read the entire decision click here.
 

 

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