U.S. Supreme Court Limits Overtime Pay For Amazon's Warehouse Employees

By harley erbe

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The next time you order something from Amazon, be aware that the people who fill those orders at Amazon's warehouses may not be getting paid for all of the time they spend there.  On December 9, 2014 the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk.  Integrity Staffing provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.  Integrity Staffing's employees retrieve products from shelves at Amazon's warehouses and package those products for delivery to Amazon customers.  That decision will impact our ability as Des Moines employment lawyers to recover overtime compensation for our clients in certain situations.

This overtime case arose because Integrity Staffing required its employees to undergo an anti-theft security screening before leaving the warehouse each day.  The employees weren't paid for the time spent waiting for and undergoing those security screenings.  The issue in the case was whether the employees’ time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing those security screenings is compensable under federal overtime law.  The U.S. Supreme Court said no.

The Court relied on an amendment to federal overtime law, known as the Portal-To-Portal Act, in deciding that Integrity Staffing did not have to pay its employees for the time spent in security screenings.  One section of the Portal-To-Portal Act states that employers don't have to pay employees for time spent on "activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to [the employee's] principal activity or activities" and "which occur either prior to the time on any particular workday at which such employee commences, or subsequent to the time on any particular workday at which he ceases, such principal activity or activities."  

The Court noted that it has consistently interpreted the term "principal activity or activities" to embrace all activities that are an "integral and indispensable part of the principal activities."  "Integral" means belonging to or making up an integral whole; constituent, component; specifically necessary to the completeness or integrity of the whole; forming an intrinsic portion or element, as distinguished from an adjunct or appendage.  When used to describe a duty, “indispensable” means a duty that cannot be dispensed with, remitted, set aside, disregarded,or neglected.  An activity is therefore integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.  The Court further observed that the U.S. Department of Labor has interpreted the Portal-To-Portal Act in a similar manner. 

It doesn't matter whether the employer required or benefited from the activity.  The "integral and indispensable" test is tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform.  Activities that an employer requires or benefits from but that are not connected to the work the employee performs are not "integral and indispensable" and do not need to be compensated.

Applying those standards, the Court concluded that the security screenings were noncompensable postliminary activities.  The screenings were not the principal activity or activities that the employees were employed to perform.  Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.  Nor were the security screenings integral and indispensable to the employees’ duties as warehouse workers.  The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment.  Integrity Staffing could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.

Overtime cases require legal analysis of federal statutes, U.S. Department of Labor regulations, and court decisions.  Please feel free to contact us if you need the assistance of a Des Moines overtime lawyer.

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