HR Management & Compliance

Supreme Court favors employer in donning, doffing case

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the employer in a closely watched donning and doffing case.

The high court ruled on January 27 that U.S. Steel Corp. did not have to pay a group of employees for time spent changing into and out of certain protective gear. In Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., workers sued to be paid for time spent donning and doffing the gear even though the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) says that time spent “changing clothes” at the beginning or end of each workday can be excluded from compensable time unless otherwise negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement.

The workers filing the lawsuit claimed the gear was personal protective equipment rather than clothing. But the Supreme Court ruled that the gear in question could largely be considered clothing, and therefore, they didn’t have to be paid for time spent putting it on and taking it off.

Twelve items were mentioned in the lawsuit: a flame-retardant jacket, a pair of pants, a hood, a hardhat, a “snood,” “wristlets,” work gloves, leggings, “metatarsal” boots, safety glasses, earplugs, and a respirator.

The court found that glasses, earplugs, and a respirator didn’t fit the definition of “clothes” for purposes of the FLSA, but the ruling referred to an earlier lower court ruling spelling out that time putting on safety glasses and earplugs “is minimal” and that respirators are “put on as needed at job locations.”

Following the ruling, a lawyer for the workers, Eric Schnapper, said the case isn’t the last word on the donning-doffing issue. A Reuters news agency report quoted him as saying, “The fighting will go on.” He said he expects litigation over cases involving different kinds of equipment in the meatpacking and poultry-processing industries.