U.S. Supreme Court Holds Security Screenings Are Not Compensable Under the FLSA

In a long awaited 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that employers are not required to compensate employees for time spent waiting for and undergoing security screenings (aka bag checks) under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It concluded that security screenings were noncompensable postliminary activities because they were not the “principal activities” the employees were employed to perform, nor were they “integral and indispensable” to those activities. The case is Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 574 U.S. ____ (2014) and a copy of the opinion can be found here.

Integrity Staffing Solutions provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.com throughout the country. Its hourly warehouse employees retrieve products from the shelves and package those products for delivery to Amazon customers. Warehouse employees Busk and Castro sued Integrity on behalf of a proposed class alleging that their employer failed to compensate them under the FLSA and Nevada state law for the roughly 25 minutes employees spent waiting to undergo and actually undergoing security screenings each day.

The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that the time was not compensable under the FLSA because the security screenings occurred after the regular work shift and were not integral and indispensable to the employees’ principal activities. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed. It held that the security screenings were necessary to the employees’ primary work as warehouse employees and done for the employer’s benefit. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the appellate court.

Congress enacted the Portal-to-Portal Act in 1947, exempting employers from liability for claims based on work related activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to an employee’s principal activities. 29 U.S.C. §254(a). Courts have interpreted “principal activities” to include all activities which are an “integral and indispensable” part of the principal activities. An activity is integral and indispensable if it is an intrinsic element of the principal activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.

The Supreme Court, applying this standard to the security screenings at issue in Busk, concluded that the warehouse employees’ principal activities were to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to customers, not to undergo security screenings. Further, the security screenings were not an intrinsic element of these principal activities because Integrity could have eliminated them altogether without impairing employees’ ability to complete their work. Accordingly, the Court held the security screenings were noncompensable postliminary activities under the FLSA.

The Supreme Court found that the Ninth Circuit erred by focusing on whether an employer required the particular activity or whether the activity was for the benefit of the employer because these standards sweep into “principal activities” the very activities the Portal-to-Portal Act was designed to make noncompensable. Additionally, the Supreme Court concluded that whether an employer could have reduced the time spent on a preliminary or postliminary activity is irrelevant because it does not change the nature of the activity or its relationship to the employees’ principal activity.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Busk is a huge victory for employers, particularly those hit by the flood of litigation over security screenings in recent years. This ruling will also likely be helpful to employers in fighting other off-the-clock claims under the FLSA.