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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sandifer v. U.S. Steel: Supreme Court Clarifies FLSA Donning and Doffing Rules

In Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., ___ U.S. ___ (1/27/14), the Supreme Court of the United States considered the meaning of the phrase "changing clothes" in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). 29 U.S.C. section 201 et seq.

Clifton Sandifer sued U.S. Steel under the FLSA for time spent donning and doffing various pieces of protective gear. U.S. Steel argued that the time was not compensable under the parties' collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and under section 203(o) of the FLSA, which allows parties to agree, as part of a CBA, that "time spent in changing clothes . . . at the beginning or end of each workday" is not compensable.

The district court granted summary judgment on those grounds and also on grounds that any time donning and doffing non-clothing protective gear was de minimis. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, as did the Supreme Court, holding:

The term "clothes" is given its ordinary meaning in the FLSA: "items that are both designed and used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of dress;" and "[c]overing for the human body; dress; vestments; vesture." "Clothes" does not include items such as tools and accessories, which would include necklaces and knapsacks.

The term "changing clothes" is not given the "usual meaning" of substituting certain clothing items for others, but takes on a broader meaning that includes "time spent in altering dress."

As a result, donning and doffing certain items, such as a flame-retardant jacket, pants, and hood; a hardhat; a snood; wristlets; work gloves; leggings; and metatarsal boots constitutes "changing clothes." Donning and doffing other items, such as safety glasses; earplugs; and a respirator, does not.

The court declined to apply the de minimis doctrine to the compensable time spent donning and doffing non-clothing items. Instead, the Court held:

If an employee devotes the vast majority of the time in question to putting on and off equipment or other non-clothes items (perhaps a diver's suit and tank) the entire period would not qualify as "time spent in changing clothes" under §203(o) , even if some clothes items were donned and doffed as well. But if the vast majority of the time is spent in donning and doffing "clothes" as we have defined that term, the entire period qualifies, and the time spent putting on and off other items need not be subtracted. 
Sandifer v. U.S. Steel is available here

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