Many jobs require that workers don protective gear prior to performing their job duties, including such gear as boots, aprons and gloves. The question then arises whether the time spent putting on these protective garments should be compensable logically. It would appear that this required activity would be. But the issue wound up before the highest court in the land.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently answered the question in Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp. The justices in the case interpreted a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The relevant part of the FLSA excludes from the definition of “hours worked,” time spent changing “clothes” at the beginning of a workday if it’s excluded under a collective-bargaining agreement. The collective-bargaining agreement between the steel workers and the union contained a provision that made the time spent donning the protective gear noncompensable. The Court ruled that the protective gear was “clothes” under the FLSA. Thus, the time spent putting on the protective gear was considered by the high court to be noncompensable.

The Court’s decision in Sandifer is important because the opinion clarifies the meaning of “clothes” under the FLSA. But the decision will only affect those employees subject to a provision in a collective-bargaining agreement that makes time putting on protective gear noncompensable. Had such a provision not existed in Sandifer, the time the steel workers spent putting on their “clothes” – and all time thereafter – would have been compensable.


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