Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that Amazon does not have to pay its temporary warehouse workers for the time that they spend waiting in line to go through security checks as they leave the facilities. The workers’ class-action lawsuit claimed that they had to undergo end of shift screenings to prevent theft and that the process, including waiting in line, could take as long as 25 minutes per shift, all of which is unpaid.
The U.S. Supreme Court examined the definition of “preliminary” and “postliminary” activities, as they related to the Portal-to-Portal Act. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the security screenings at Amazon were not “integral and indispensable” to the workers’ jobs and therefore did not mandate pay for the time spent going through the process. The Court’s opinion reversed the Ninth Circuit’s finding that the screenings were for the company’s benefit and were a necessary component of the work. Justice Thomas said that the correct test was whether the screening was tied to the employee’s “productive work.” He noted that Amazon could eliminate the security screenings altogether “without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.”
Employers should note that this was a limited ruling only dealing with these type security screenings. Preliminary and postliminary activities that relate to worker safety and efficiency will still require payment. For example, workers who must shower and change clothes due to their close proximity to toxic materials will still need to be paid for that time. However, this opinion may indicate the high Court’s willingness to closely scrutinize activities that occur before or after actual work or production.