By Troy D. Thompson of Axley Brynelson, LLP
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that time spent by employees putting on and taking off company-required clothing to comply with federal regulations is compensable time for which they must be paid. The court’s decision is largely consistent with a line of other recent decisions addressing preliminary and postliminary work activities. The case provides guidance and an opportunity to audit your pay practices to ensure you are complying with federal and state wage and hour law.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 1473 (UFCW), filed a class action against Hormel Foods Corporation seeking compensation for time spent by current and former employees putting on (“donning”) and taking off (“doffing”) company-required clothing and equipment before and after their shifts at Hormel’s canning plant in Beloit.
Regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) govern Hormel’s production facilities. Federal regulations require Hormel to meet standards of cleanliness, quality, and safety in its plant and products.
For example, the federal regulations require that employees working with food protect against contamination by maintaining hygienic practices like washing their hands and wearing clean outer garments.
Hormel’s work rules require that employees wear certain equipment, including company-provided clothing, hard hats, hearing protection, and eye protection. Employees must wear clean and sanitary footwear at all times. All exposed head and facial hair must be covered by a hairnet. Employees must change their protective clothing daily or more often (as good sanitation practices dictate) and may not wear it outside the plant.
Hormel does not compensate employees for time spent donning and doffing the required clothing and equipment at the beginning and end of the day. Hormel and the employees agreed that the median time for donning and doffing the required clothing and equipment at the beginning and end of the day, washing hands, and walking to and from assigned workstations was 5.7 minutes per day, 28.5 minutes per week, or approximately 24 hours per year.