Feathers fly over chicken pluckers and FLSA overtime

by on March 30, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Judge’s ruling may give companies more latitude in FLSA regulations on protective gear

Knowing the difference between compensable time and non-compensable time is an age-old sore spot in FLSA regulations for some companies.

Here’s a recent case that sheds new light on the issue of protective gear and whether you should pay employees to put it on. Court opinions vary, but this one may give you more wiggle room.

Donning protective work gear isn’t covered by FLSA overtime statutes

Workers at a chicken processing plant weren’t getting paid for the time it took to don helmets, ear plugs, safety glasses, steel-toed boots and other protection gear.

Factory rules said they couldn’t clock in until they had their protection gear on – and sometimes they had to wait in line before they could punch the time clock. They filed a lawsuit, seeking to be paid for the extra time involved.

Most other courts have ruled that time spent donning protective gear is compensable, but time spent changing into ordinary work clothes (so street clothes don’t get dirty, for example) isn’t compensable.

But in this FLSA overtime case, the court ruled for the employer, rejecting previous rulings and a recent DOL proposal that donning and doffing protection gear on company property should start the workday.

When it comes to donning or doffing protective work gear, proceed with caution. Check with your attorney before you decide what’s non-compensable under FLSA regulations. Consider seeking an opinion letter from your local DOL office. A FLSA overtime lawsuit over this ain’t chicken feed.

Cite: Tum et al. v. Barber Foods, U.S. Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit, No. 02-1679, 02-1739, 3/04.

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