Security ScreeningIn Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, ___ U.S. ___ (December 9, 2014), the United States Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that, pursuant to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), employees must be paid for time spent passing through security screenings.

Appellant employer required its employees, hourly warehouse workers who retrieved inventory and packaged it for shipment, to undergo an antitheft security screening before leaving the warehouse each day, during which they would have to remove items such as wallets, keys, and belts from their persons and pass through metal detectors.  According to these employees, this amounted to roughly 25 minutes per day, for which they were not compensated. Therefore, the employees filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated employees for unpaid wages under the FLSA. The U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that the time spent waiting for and undergoing the security screenings was not compensable under the FLSA. It explained that, because the screenings occurred after the regular work shift, the employees could state a claim for compensation only if the screenings were an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities they were employed to perform, which they were not.  The Ninth Circuit reversed.  Because the security screenings were conducted to prevent employee theft, the appellate court concluded, the screenings were “necessary” to the employees’ primary work as warehouse employees and done for the employer’s benefit.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the security screenings were “noncompensable postliminary activities.”  The court reasoned as follows:  First, the screenings were not the “principal activity or activities” which the employees were hired to perform.  The employer “did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.”  Second, the security screenings were not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ duties as warehouse workers because they were not “an intrinsic element” of the employees’ principal activities, with which the employees could not dispense if they were to perform those activities. Indeed, the employer “could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.”  Third, appellate court erred by focusing on whether an employer required a particular activity. “If the test could be satisfied merely by the fact that an employer required an activity, it would sweep into ‘principal activities’ the very activities that the [federal] Portal-to-Portal Act [which exempts employers from having to pay employees for preliminary or postliminary activities] was designed to address.”