Many jobs and occupations involve protective clothing and equipment, and the time workers spend putting on and taking off that gear may entitle them to compensation.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that time spent “changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday” is not compensable, but there are notable exceptions associated with donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) protective clothing and gear.
For example, if protective equipment worn by employees is “required by law, by the employer, or due to the nature of the job,” it not considered clothing. And because donning and doffing of protective equipment can be a “principal activity” related to an employee’s job responsibilities, the time spent putting it on and taking it off should be included in the employee’s work hours.
Various occupations and workplaces fall under this category, some of which have been the focus of class action litigation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court:
- Meat and poultry processing facilities
- Chemical plants
- Law enforcement
Every work environment and situation is different, but the real issue centers on the amount of donning and doffing time an employee requires each workday, and if that time pushes the work week above 40 hours, thus entitling the employee to overtime pay.
In one class action lawsuit against Hillshire Brands (formerly Sara Lee), production workers accused their employer of forcing them to don protective gear before beginning of their shifts and doffing the gear after their shifts ended, without compensating them for the pre-shift and post-shift time. Because time clocks were located in work areas scattered around the plant – sometimes far away from employee locker rooms – the employees were required to arrive early and stay later at the facility to put on and remove ear protection, safety glasses, steel toed boots, and bump caps. The jury found that the donning and doffing were “principal activities” for which they should have been paid, and because the company willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act willful, the employees could not only recover unpaid overtime, but also an extra year of damages.