High Court defines “changing clothes,” finds putting on safety gear not paid time

By Kelline R. Linton,
Junior Associate.


In a recent case decided on January 27, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the time employees spent donning and doffing protective gear was “changing clothes” under 29 U.S.C. § 203(o). Section 203(o) permitted collective bargaining on whether time spent changing clothes would be paid time, so the employer did not have to compensate employees for that time.


Specifically in Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., the employees’ collective bargaining agreement with their union contained a provision that the time spent changing clothes during a workday would not be compensated. When the employees sought backpay for the time they spent changing in and out of protective gear at a steel plant, the Court held that they were not entitled to such pay because putting on and taking off protective gear was “changing clothes.”


The Court stated that the appropriate standard for determining whether “time is spent in changing clothes” is to ask whether, on the whole, the majority of the time is spent changing clothes. If a majority of the time is devoted to putting on and off equipment or any non-clothes items, the period does not qualify as “time spent in changing clothes.”


In light of this recent decision, we recommend that employers with collective bargaining agreements first ascertain whether their agreements contain similar provisions on “changing clothes.” These employers also should evaluate whether they are currently compensating employees for any time that may now be categorized as “time spent in changing clothes.” If so, employers may want to stop such pay going forward. If not, employers may want to consider bargaining on that issue. In either case, however, we recommend proceeding cautiously and with legal advice, so as to avoid any union or employee difficulties. We are available if you have any questions about the best approach to this new development.


To read the full text of the case, see: http://www.metnews.com/sos.cgi?0114//12-417_9okb.


(Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., 2014 S.O.S. 12-417_9okb (2014)).