The time workers spend donning and doffing their protective gear is not compensable by operation of section 203(o) of the United States Constitution
March 2, 2014
The time workers spend donning and doffing their protective gear is not compensable by operation of section 203(o) of the United States Constitution.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
SANDIFER ET AL. v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP
Reported by Vellah Kedogo
The petitioners filed suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act against respondent United States Steel Corporation in the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The petitioners in this putative collective action were a group of current or former employees of respondent’s steelmaking facilities. They sought back pay for time spent donning and doffing various pieces of protective gear. Petitioners asserted that respondent required workers to wear all of the items because of hazards regularly encountered in steelplants.
The petitioners pointed specifically to 12 of what they stated were the most common kinds of required protective gear: aflame-retardant jacket, pair of pants, a hood, a hard hat, a snood, wristlets, work gloves, leggings, metatarsal boots, safety glasses, earplugs, and a respirator.They wanted to be paid for the time they spent putting on and taking off those objects. In the aggregate, the amount of time and thus money involved was likely to be quite large.
The respondents contended that the donning and doffing time, which would otherwise be compensable under the Act, was non compensable under a provision of its collective bargaining agreement with petitioners’ union. The validity of that provision depended, in turn, upon the applicability of 29 United States Constitution sections 203(o) to the time at issue. This subsection allowed parties to decide, as part of a collective bargaining agreement, that “time spent in changing clothes . . . at the beginning or end of each workday” was noncompensable.
The District Court granted summary judgment in pertinent part to the respondent holding that donning and doffing the protective gear constituted “changing clothes” within the meaning of section 203(o). The District Court further assumed that even if certain items—the hardhat, glasses, and earplugs—were not “clothes,” the time spent donning and doffing them was “de minimis” and hence noncompensable.
- Whether protective gear qualified as “clothes” within the meaning of section 203(o) of the United States Constitution.
- Whether donning and doffing of protective gear qualified as “changing clothes” within the meaning of section 203(o) of the United States Constitution
- Whether time spent donning and doffing of the protective gear was compensable.
29 United States Constitution sections 203(o)
“Hours Worked. – In determining for the purposes of sections 206 and 207 of this title the hours for which an employee is employed, there shall be excluded any time spent in changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday which was excluded from measured working time during the week involved by the express terms of or by custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement applicable to the particular employee”
Constitutional Law -the United States Constitution-–interpretation of constitution- interpretation of 29 United States Constitution sections 203(o)
Constitutional law- the United States Constitution- definition of word phrases-definition of clothes-whether protective gears were clothes- that clothes encompassed the entire outfit that one puts on tobe ready for work-29 United States Constitution sections 203(o)
Constitutional Law- the United States Constitution- definition of word phrases–changing of clothes-whether the meaning of changing clothes connoted substitution-29 United States Constitution sections 203(o)
- Dictionaries from the era of United States Constitution section 203(o)’s enactment indicated that “clothes” denoted items that were both designed and used to cover the body and were commonly regarded as articles of dress.Although a statute may make a departure from the natural and popular acceptation of language, nothing in the text or context of section 203(o) suggested anything other than the ordinary meaning of“clothes.”
- The statutory compensation requirement to which section 203(o) provided an exception embraced the changing of clothes only when that conduct constituted an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities for which covered workmen were employed. Protective gear was the only clothing that was integral and indispensable to the work of factory workers, butchers, longshoremen, and a host of other occupations. Petitioners’ definition of “clothes” would largely limit the application of section 203(o) towhat might be called workers’ costumes, worn by such employees as waiters, doormen, and train conductors. Petitioners’ position was also incompatible with the historical context surrounding section 203(o)’s passage, since it flatly contradicted an illustration provided by the Labor Department’s 1947 regulations to show how changing clothes could be intimately related to a principal activity.
- The statutory context made it clear that the “clothes” referred to were items that were integral to job performance; the donning and doffing of other items would create no claim to compensation under the Act, and hence no need for the section 203(o) exception.Moreover, even with respect to items that could be regarded as integral to job performance, the court’s definition did not embrace the view, adopted by some Courts of Appeals, that “clothes” meant essentially anything worn on the body including accessories, tools, and so forth.(Salazar v. Butterball, LLC, 644 F. 3d 1130, 1139–1140 (CA10 2011). The construction adopted was considerably more contained. The court’s definition left room for distinguishing between clothes and wearable items that were not clothes, such as some equipment and devices. Clothes encompassed the entire outfit that one puts on to be ready for work.
- Although it was true that the normal meaning of “changing clothes” connoted substitution, the phrase was certainly able to have a different import. The term “changing” carried two common meanings at the time of section 203(o)’s enactment: to “substitute” and to “alter.” Despite the usual meaning of “changing clothes,” the broader statutory context made it plain that time spent in changing clothes included time spent in altering dress.
- The object of section 203(o) was to permit collective bargaining over the compensability of clothes changing time and topromote the predictability achieved through mutually beneficial negotiation. There could be little predictability, and hence little meaningful negotiation, if “changing” meant only “substituting.” Whether one actually exchanged street clothes for work clothes or simply lays garments atop one another after arriving on the job site was often a matter of purely personal choice. That choice would be influenced by such happenstances and vagaries as what month it was, what styles were in vogue, what time the employee woke up, what mode of transportation he used, and so on.
- Applying these principles, it was evident that the donning and doffing in this case qualified as “changing clothes” under section 203(o).Of the 12 items at issue, only 3—safety glasses, earplugs, and a respirator—did not fit within the elaborated interpretation of “clothes.”
- The doctrine de minimis non curat lex (the law does not take account of trifles) did not fit comfortably within the statute, which was all about trifles. A more appropriate way to proceed was for courts to ask whether the period at issue could, on the whole, be fairly characterized as “time spent in changingclothes or washing.” If an employee devoted the vast majority of that time to putting on and off equipment or other non-clothes items, the entire period would not qualify as “time spent in changing clothes” under section 203(o), even if some clothes items were also donned and doffed. However if the vast majority of the time was spent in donning and doffing “clothes” as defined, the entire period qualified, and the time spent putting on and off other items needed not be subtracted.
- Petitioners’ donning and doffing of the protective gear qualified as “changing clothes” within the meaning of section 203(o).
The judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed.
Relevance to Kenya
Donning and doffing is a hot area of wage and hour law that often leads to class and collective actions and, as a result, creates significant potential liability and litigation costs for employers. This law has not been recognized in Kenyan employment legislations. This judgment is jurisprudential as it will be invoked in future when such cases arise in the Kenyan jurisdiction.