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Employment & Labor Update - Supreme Court Approves Employers’ Right To Conduct Security Screening Without Wage Liability

December 11, 2014

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that employers have no obligation to pay their employees for time spent undergoing security screenings when those screenings are not integral to the employees’ job duties.  Busk et al. v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. This decision, which reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the employees, allows most employers to implement pre or post-duty security measures without fear of federal wage and hour liability.

This case involved former Integrity Staffing employees placed on temporary assignments at Amazon.com warehouses to fill customer orders.  Due to concerns over theft, these employees were required to undergo security screening following their shift.  The employees alleged that this screening added nearly half an hour to their shift, and that since this screening was an “integral” part of their job, they were due compensation under federal wage and hour laws.

In a rare unanimous decision, the Supreme Court flatly disagreed, ruling that such screening is not an “integral” part of the job.  Justice Clarence Thomas authored the opinion, writing that “integral” tasks are those which an employee is hired to perform (in this case, taking products off the shelves and packaging them for shipment to Amazon’s customers).  Because the employees were not hired to go through security screenings, such measures were not “integral” and thus non-compensable.

Justice Thomas also noted that the employer could have eliminated the screenings without affecting the workers’ ability to complete the tasks they were hired to perform.  Again, Justice Thomas emphasized that the test is not whether an employer requires the activity, but whether the required activity is part and parcel of the tasks an employee is hired to perform.

Although there may be jobs for which security screening is integral to the duties that the employee is hired to perform, this decision means that most employers do not need to eliminate security screenings in order to avoid paying overtime or incurring wage and hour liability. The decision also signals that the Supreme Court is not willing to expand what pre and post-employment functions constitute compensable time under federal law. Therefore, for example, standing in line to clock-in, walking from the parking lot to the time clock, and other non-integral functions should not be considered compensable time under Busk.