Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk: Specific Holding Speaks to Broader Issue

“Integral and Indispensable”

A recent United States Supreme Court decision has made it clear that an employee may not receive compensation for activities that were not integral and indispensable to their principal duties. In Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, 135 S. Ct. 513, 519 (2014), a unanimous decision made it clear that there are post-shift activities (as well as certain pre-shift actions) for which an employer does not have to compensation an employee.

Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro previously worked for Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., (“Integrity”), which supplies warehouse space to large retailer clients, including Amazon, as well as provides the staff necessary to fulfill the duties at the warehouse of packaging up and shipping out products to customers of the clients. Both Busk and Castro worked in Nevada warehouses, performing the tasks necessary to get orders out to Amazon customers. When the workers’ shifts ended, all Integrity employees were required to go through security checkpoints where they removed personal items such as their wallets, keys, and other objects before being screened by a metal detector. The employees then submitted to a search to determine that they were not attempting to remove any property from the warehouses. These security procedures, known as “inventory control,” could take almost a half hour at the end of each work shift to complete and also consumed a significant portion of a worker’s 30 minute lunch break.

In 2010, Busk and Castro filed a legal action against Integrity, arguing that failing to compensate workers for the time spent on the security procedures violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Nevada state labor laws. The district court granted Integrity's motion to dismiss, but on appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The United States Court of Appeals agreed that abbreviated lunch breaks did not rise to the level of violations of the FLSA, but held that the plaintiffs’ claims that security clearance protocols were “integral and indispensable” to their work and should, therefore, be compensable should have been addressed by the lower court.

Under the FLSA, activities that are preliminary and postliminary to principal work activities that an employee is required to perform are not generally compensable. However, if the before and after activities are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal work activities, then the employee should be compensated for them. Of course, courts have not been consistent in their approach to determining what work activities comprise an integral and indispensable part of an employee’s work. In its analysis, the Ninth Circuit focused on the fact that (1) the security screenings were required, and (2) they benefited the employer. Therefore the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s holding that the employees should not be compensated for the time spent undergoing these security checks. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit relating to compensation for security checks.

What is “work”?

In their argument to the United States Supreme Court, the plaintiffs continued to argue that because the screening procedures were required by Integrity and were for the benefit of Integrity, Integrity should pay the employees for the extra time spent on those activities. The plaintiffs attempted to establish a test for compensation of such activities with the following line of inquiry:

  • Is the activity work?
  • Is it for the employer's benefit? And
  • If the answer to the previous two questions was yes, then the activity deserves extra pay.

Integrity responded to this assertion by arguing that the security procedures were part of going out the door at the end of the day, just like clocking out is, and therefore no extra pay is required. The federal government supported this position, claiming that security screenings presented no extra duties and therefore deserved no extra pay.

Worker’s Primary Activity

The United States Supreme Court ultimately rejected both parties’ suggested analyses and instead focused on whether the security clearances were tied closely enough to the worker’s primary activity. In other words, were the screenings an integral and indispensable part of the workers’ jobs? The court answered that question with a resounding no. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Thomas, the Court held that the security procedures could be changed or even eliminated without affecting workers’ ability to complete their normal tasks, which were to take products off shelves and package them for shipment to Amazon customers. By finding that the security screenings were not part of the workers’ primary activities, the Court concluded that employers were not required to compensate workers for time spent on them. The court noted that the idea of changing screening procedures to reduce the amount of time workers had to spend waiting for clearance was an issue better suited to a bargaining table than a courtroom.

Compensable Work

Although the Integrity case spoke to the issue of workers receiving extra pay for time spent on security clearances required by their employer, the underlying issue was much broader: what constitutes compensable work? There still are certain pre- and post-shift activities that fall within a gray area, such as donning necessary safety gear, but it is clear that there are limits on what activities fall within the classification of “integral and indispensable.”

There are many different changes happening in employment law and it is important for both employers and employees to remain aware of potential legal pitfalls. In order to discuss this or other employment matters, contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside, and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020 to schedule an appointment.