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D.Md.: Loading/Unloading of Materials Could Be Deemed “Integral and Indispensable” for Fire Protection Services; DMSJ Denied
Ross v. Wolf Fire Protection, Inc.
Plaintiffs, employees who installed fire protection services (sprinklers) on behalf of their employer, filed this lawsuit claiming that Defendant failed to pay them for all of their compensable work time. Specifically, Plaintiffs asserted that Defendant improperly failed to start their work day each day when they were required to come to Defendant’s facility to pick up expensive tools necessary for their work and load Defendant’s trucks. Similarly, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant failed to properly pay them for time spent when they were required to return such tools (and work vehicles) to Defendant’s facility at the end of each work day. The Defendant argued that such time was precluded by the Portal-to-Portal Act, and in any event was de minimus such that it was not compensable time. The court held that the facts could support a finding that such time was “integral and indispensable” to their work, thus making it potentially compensable. As such, it denied Defendant’s motion.
Rejecting Defendant’s contentions, the court reasoned:
“The Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs “have never been instructed or directed to come to the [warehouse] before the start of the workday or at the end of the workday to pick up or drop off tools,” so loading of equipment at the warehouse cannot be an integral and indispensable part of their jobs. Defs.’ Mot. 7. The Plaintiffs contend that loading the equipment was integral because the equipment was necessary to installing sprinkler systems, and the Defendants required that they pick up the equipment at the warehouse. Pl.’s Opp’n 2–4.
An activity is “integral and indispensable” to the employee’s principal activities if it is “(1) necessary to the principal work performed and (2) done for the benefit of the employer.” Perez, 601 F.Supp.2d at 676 (citing Alvarez v. IBP, Inc., 399 F.3d 894, 902–03 (9th Cir.2003)).
The parties do not dispute that the Plaintiffs’ principal work was sprinkler system installation. See Defs.’ Mot. 6; Pls.’ Opp’n 2. Phillips’s affidavit is that the equipment he loaded and unloaded included items “necessary” to installing the sprinkler systems, such as the sprinkler heads, and because this equipment was expensive, Fire Protection “did not want [it] delivered directly to the job site” and “required [employees] to pick the[ ] [equipment] up at the warehouse, sign for [it], and account for [it].” Phillips Aff. ¶ 9.
From the evidence in Phillips’s affidavit, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Phillips needed the equipment loaded at the warehouse to complete his job (the first part of the “integral and indispensable” inquiry). From his testimony that Fire Protection did not want expensive items delivered directly to the job sites, and required that the pipefitters pick up and sign for the equipment, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the loading and unloading was “done for the benefit of the employer.” It is genuinely disputed whether Fire Protection required the plaintiffs to load and unload equipment, and whether the loading and unloading was “integral” to their “principal activity” requiring compensation under the FLSA.”
Rejecting Defendant’s contention that Plaintiffs were not entitled to be paid for travel time, the court explained:
“The Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs’ “voluntary carpooling” while “transporting tools, equipment and supplies” is not compensable under the FLSA. Defs.’ Reply 4. The Plaintiffs contend that because their workday started with loading the trucks at the warehouse, they must be compensated for all subsequent travel time within the workday. Pls.’ Opp’n 3–5.
The Portal–to–Portal Act did not change the “continuous workday” rule that “any walking, riding, or traveling 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.” Epps, 2011 WL 1566004, at *5 (internal quotation marks omitted). Applicable regulations provide that:
Time spent by an employee in travel as part of his principal activity, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday must be counted as hours worked. Where an employee is required to report to a meeting place … to pick up and to carry tools, the travel from the designated place to the work place is part of the day’s work, and must be counted as hours worked regardless of contract, custom, or practice. 29 C.F.R. § 785.38.
As discussed above, Phillips’s affidavit that Fire Protection required him to report to the warehouse to load and sign out expensive equipment Fire Protection did not want delivered directly to the job site creates a genuine dispute whether the loading and unloading was a principal activity. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, it also creates a genuine dispute about whether travel from the warehouse to the job site and the return to the warehouse at the end of the day are “part of the day’s work” requiring compensation under the FLSA. The Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the Plaintiffs’ FLSA unpaid wages claim will be denied.”
The issues discussed in this case are far from unique in the work world. However, many employers continue to violate the law, assuming that they need only pay employees for time spent at customer work sites, where the employer is profiting from the employees’ work. This case serves as a reminder that this is a misconception of the law.
Click Ross v. Wolf Fire Protection, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum and Opinion.