U.S. Supreme Court Rules for Employer in Donning and Doffing Case

Jan 28 2014 - Compensation, Health and Safety - Gail Cecchettini Whaley

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision in Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp. that steelworkers who do their job wearing flame-retardant gear are not entitled to compensation for the time they spend putting on the gear before and after their shift.

Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows parties to collectively bargain over whether time spent changing clothes at the beginning or end of a workday must be compensated. U.S. Steel and United Steel Workers had a contract that did not provide for changing time.

The steel workers argued that putting on and taking off (donning and doffing) their mandatory flame-retardant safety wear does not constitute “changing clothes” as used in the FLSA and should be compensable time.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, siding with U.S. Steel and finding that there was “no basis” for the steelworkers claim that the “unmodified term ‘clothes’ somehow omits protective clothing.”

However, the Court did not expand the ruling as far as U.S. Steel had requested — to define clothes as everything worn on the body. “Our definition leaves room for distinguishing between clothes and wearable items that are not clothes, such as certain equipment and devices,” the Court said.

This case will be covered in more detail in the February 6 issue of the HRCalifornia Extra e-newsletter.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

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