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Supreme Court Says Time Spent on Changing Into Protective Gear Need Not Be Compensated
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In a victory for employers, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the phrase “changing clothes” used in Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act which included the time spent on changing into and out of the protective gear need not be compensated, if so agreed by the parties to a collective bargaining agreement.

In the instant case, the employees sought back pay for the time spent on “putting on” and “taking off” the protective gear that they contended could not be termed as “clothes.” Such gear included a flame-retardant jacket, pair of pants, hood, hardhat, a “snood,” wristlets, work gloves, leggings, metatarsal boots, safety glasses, earplugs and a respirator.


The employer had admitted that under ordinary circumstances the time spent on donning and taking off the protective gear was compensable under the FLSA’s “continuous workday rule.” But the plaintiffs’ claims were non compensable because it was agreed so by a collective bargaining agreement. And under Section 230(o), parties to the agreement can choose to designate non-compensable the “time spent in changing clothes … at the beginning or end of each workday.”

The case went up to the U.S. Supreme Court with the plaintiffs claiming that the definition of “clothes” did not cover the type of protective gear that they had to wear and take off each day, and that there was a clear distinction between articles worn to protect the body, and articles worn for decency or comfort.

However, the court rejected the arguments made by the employees and held that the two concepts are “not incompatible, and are often synonymous.” The Court also stressed that if the meaning of the word “clothes” was restricted in such a fashion then the Section 203(o) would reach “near nothingness,” since protective gear “is the only clothing that is integral and indispensable to the work of factory workers, butchers, longshoremen, and a host of other occupations.”

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The Court explained that the “statutory context makes clear that the ‘clothes’ referred to are items that are integral to job performance; the donning and doffing of other items would create no claim to compensation under the Act, and hence no need for the § 203(o) exception.”


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