Fallout from Amazon security screening case may be far reaching

Category: Published Articles
Date: Mar 25, 2014 01:41 PM

James Oldendorph published "Fallout from Amazon security screening case may be far reaching" in the March 24, 2014 issue of the Daily Journal. This article first appeared as a blog post on the firm's California Public Agency Labor and Employment Blog on March 13, 2014. The post is below.

On March 3, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case which questions whether employees of companies such as Amazon.com, and companies that provide staffing services to Amazon.com, must be paid for time spent going through security screenings similar to those found in airports, sporting venues, courthouses and correctional facilities prior to or at the end of their shifts.

Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro were employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., a company which provides warehouse space and staffing to clients such as Amazon.com. Busk and Castro worked at Nevada warehouses filling orders placed by Amazon customers. In 2010, Busk and Castro sued Integrity seeking back pay, overtime, and double damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act for time spent in security screenings after the end of their work shifts. Busk and Castro alleged that they waited up to 25 minutes to be searched, remove their wallets, keys, and belts; and pass through metal detectors prior to leaving work. The clearances were required to minimize employee theft.

The United States District Court in Nevada dismissed the claims, finding that security screenings are "preliminary" or "postliminary" activities that are not compensable under the FLSA pursuant to the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947. Busk and Castro appealed the dismissals to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which reversed the District Court's decision, holding that time spent in security screenings is compensable under the FLSA because it is "necessary to [the employees'] primary work as warehouse employees." The Ninth Circuit's holding conflicted with decisions from two other federal appeals courts which held that time spent in security screenings is not subject to the FLSA because it is not "integral and indispensable" to employees' principal job duties. Integrity filed a petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court which has now agreed to hear the case. The question for the Supreme Court is whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under the FLSA.

While this case deals with a private sector employment situation, the Supreme Court's eventual ruling may also have a far-reaching impact on public agencies which require employees, in this post-9/11 era, to go through security screenings and/or metal detectors while arriving at work and/or while leaving work. Security screenings regularly take place at courthouses and other government buildings. Perhaps the facilities likely to be the most affected by the Supreme Court's ultimate ruling will be correctional facilities where employees might have to go through extensive security checks to get to or leave their assigned worksites. For example, county jail facilities require deputies to go through a series of security gates in order to exit the facility depending on the location of their worksite. Persons employed at correctional facilities may argue that they must be compensated for time spent going through the process in which they enter or exit the facility. The question is whether this security screening is "integral and indispensable" to the employees' principal job duties. Can a security screening be considered "work" under the FLSA which requires compensation? The Supreme Court will have to make these determinations.

If the Court agrees with the Ninth Circuit's interpretation of the FLSA, liability may be created for employers who require their employees to pass through various types of security screenings at the workplace. We will monitor this case and update you as it proceeds.

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