Supreme Court Finds that Time Employees Spend in Security Screening is Not Compensable

In an important Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) case, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, the Supreme Court recently ruled that time employees spent waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings is not compensable under the FLSA.

The case involved the interpretation of the Portal-to-Portal Act, which amended the FLSA to preclude employer liability when an employee claims compensation based on “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to” (i.e., at the beginning and end of the work day) the employee’s “principal activities.” In Busk, the Supreme Court interpreted the Portal-to-Portal Act to provide that employees were not entitled to compensation for time spent waiting for, and undergoing, security clearance checks following a work shift.

Integrity Staffing provided employees to an warehouse. After the completion of their work shift—and prior to leaving the warehouse—each employee was required to pass through a security screening area designed to root out theft. Integrity Staffing did not pay the employees for this time, which allegedly could take upwards of twenty-five minutes. The employees filed suit, claiming the failure to compensate them for time spent going through the security screening process violated the FLSA.

The Court ruled that compensability does not turn simply on whether a time-consuming activity is required by the employer. Rather, only those activities that enhance the safety or effectiveness of an employee’s work (e.g., putting on and taking off protective gear for work in a hazardous environment, a butcher sharpening knives) are compensable. Thus, because a security screening does not help warehouse employees carry out their primary activities in a safer or more effective manner, the FLSA does not require compensation for the time dedicated to waiting for, and undergoing, those screenings.

This case serves as an important reminder that in order to avoid a wage claim under the FLSA, employers should carefully consider whether any activities performed before or after an employee’s principal tasks are “tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform,” and, if so, compensate accordingly.