U.S. Supreme Court Quashes Compensability of Security Screenings

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed another victory to employers, unanimously ruling that companies do not have to pay employees for time spent for security screenings at the end of their shifts.In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, an Amazon contractor — Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. — required workers who retrieved products from warehouse shelves and packaged them for delivery to Amazon  customers to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse each day.  The workers claimed they waited up to 25 minutes to clear security before they could go home and thus were entitled to compensation for both the waiting time and the time spent actually undergoing such security screenings.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (of course) ruled last year that the workers deserved compensation because the anti-theft screenings were necessary to the primary work performed and were done for Integrity Staffing’s benefit.On appeal to the Supreme Court, Integrity Staffing argued the security checks were not central to warehouse work and instead were more like waiting in line to punch a time clock (which is generally not compensable).  The workers retorted that taking part in an anti-theft search was integral to their duty to refrain from taking Amazon products. In a 9-0 vote, the high court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision, deciding that the workers were not entitled to compensation for time spent waiting for and passing through security screening.  Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the opinion, concluded that the screening process was neither a “principal activity” of the workers’ jobs, nor “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ duties as warehouse workers because the screenings could be eliminated without compromising the workers’ ability to do their jobs.  For an activity to pass the “integral and indispensable” test, Justice Thomas wrote that the activity must be “an intrinsic element” of the job and “one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform those [principal] activities.”  Thus, because “the workers were employed not to undergo security screenings but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package them for shipment,” the Ninth Circuit “erred by focusing on whether an employer required a particular activity.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, wrote a concurring opinion, emphasizing that the Court’s opinion was consistent with Department of Labor regulations.The Integrity Staffing ruling will benefit retailers and other large companies that routinely screen workers to prevent employee theft.  The ruling is also consistent with the Court’s rationale in another pro-employer opinion we discussed earlier this year, Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., in which the Court excluded time spent by unionized employees donning and doffing protective gear (such as earplugs and safety goggles) from compensable time. -Marc Klein and Barbara-Ellen Gaffney, Thompson & Knight LLP