Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Supreme Court agrees to hear FLSA case on ‘changing clothes’

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide what constitutes “changing clothes” for purposes of determining a worker’s compensable time under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The court will review a decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that hourly employees for U.S. Steel were not entitled to compensation for time spent changing clothes at their lockers or for “travel” time to and from their work stations.

Section 203(o) of the FLSA provides that an employer need not compensate a worker for time spent in “changing clothes,” if that time is expressly excluded from compensable time under a collective bargaining agreement.

The plaintiffs in this case are 800 current and former U.S. Steel hourly workers. They argued that U.S. Steel violated the FLSA by failing to compensate them for the time they spent in putting on and taking off their work clothes in the locker room at their plant. In addition, the plaintiffs sought compensation for time spent walking from their lockers to their work stations at the beginning of their shifts, and back again at the end of their shifts.

While the trial court decided that the plaintiffs could not proceed with their claim for compensation for actual clothes-changing time, it concluded that they could proceed with their claim for so-called “travel” time to and from their lockers.

But 7th Circuit concluded that the Portal-to-Portal Act precluded compensation for such travel time. The Act generally exempts traveling to and from the actual place of performance of the employee’s “principal activity” from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions.

The court explained that §203(o) “permits the parties to a collective bargaining agreement to reclassify changing time as nonworking time, and they did so, agreeing that “the workday would not start when the workers changed their clothes; it would start when they arrived at their work site. If clothes-changing time is lawfully not compensated, we can’t see how it could be thought a principal employment activity, and so [the Portal-to-Portal Act] exempts the travel time in this case.”

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on Tuesday and is expected to decide the case next term.

The case is Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, No. 10-1821.

Lawyers USA is a sister publication of The Daily Record.