A case was presented before the Supreme Court in November 2013 about this very subject and the opinion was published January 27, 2014. The case, Sandifer, et al. v. United States Steel Corp., No. 12-417, clarifies the definition of putting on and taking off safety gear under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA of 1938) and when union collective bargaining comes into play.
The case is about former and current union employees suing US Steel seeking back pay for time spent putting on and taking off safety gear, which is required because of their exposures in the steel plant. The petitioners contend that they should receive the back pay because of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
US Steel contends that there should not be any back pay because of the provision of its collective bargaining agreement with the petitioners’ union and 29 U.S.C. 203(o), which allows parties to collectively bargain over whether “time spent in changing clothes…. at the beginning or end of each workday” must be compensated.
A few of items of note in this ruling are:
• The court affirmed that putting on and taking off of safety gear is the same as changing into “work clothes”.
• The court affirmed that non-union employees’ time putting on and taking off of safety gear is compensable under the FLSA of 1938.
• The court affirmed that union employees’ time putting on and taking off of safety gear is only compensable if it has been placed in the union’s contract.
• An exception to the above for a union employee is if the time devoted to the putting on and taking off of safety gear is “long”, than it would not count as “changing of clothes” and would be compensable.