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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 After further negotiation, this proposal was withdrawn, and it was not included in the final agreement.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.