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The U.S. Supreme Court’s 9-0 decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk on December 9, 2014, clarifies a nagging wage/hour question about when workers must be paid for “preliminary” and “postliminary” activities.

The case involved security screenings of employees assigned by Integrity Staffing to Amazon’s warehouses. At the end of each shift and after clocking out for the day, employees were subject to security screenings that could take up to 25 minutes. Former employees brought a class action claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act alleging that the security screening time was compensable because the employer required it.

Not so fast, said the Supreme Court. The Court noted that both the FLSA and Portal-to Portal Act address whether employees must be paid for activities that are preliminary or postliminary to an employee's principal work duties, meaning those activities that employees may perform before clocking in or after clocking out. According to the Court, the issue boiled down to whether the activity – in this case the security screening – was “integral” and “indispensable” to the productive work that the employee was hired to perform. An activity is integral and indispensable to a principal activity, if it is “an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.”

The Court noted that the employees were hired to retrieve packages and goods from the warehouse for shipment to customers, which was a task that could be accomplished without having to go through a security screening. As a result, the Court concluded that the fact that the employer required the security screenings did not make those screenings an "integral part" of the employees' duties.

The Integrity Staffing case is a win for employers who have been inundated with wage/hour class action claims that push the boundaries of the FLSA. But, employers should also take note – and apply – the clear guidance that the case provides about when preliminary or postliminary activities are compensable. Activities that are "integral and indispensable" parts of the principal activities an employee was hired to perform fall within the scope of compensable time. So, for example, required safety checks may be integral and indispensable for certain jobs. Employers should use this decision as guidance as they evaluate activities that non-exempt employees perform at the beginning and end of each shift.

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