One such case, Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., considers whether the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay regular and overtime wages to employees who are required to spend time changing in and out of protective clothing at the beginning and end of each work shift. Currently, the FLSA allows employers to exclude time spent changing clothes from the payroll. However, recently there has been a great debate over what “changing clothes” actually means.
In Sandifer, which originated in North Dakota, employees of U.S Steel brought a collective action complaint under the FLSA for the company’s failure to pay wages for time spent removing articles of clothing in the company locker room. Such articles included flame-retardant jackets, hardhats, safety-glasses, and protective footwear. U.S. Steel cited the FLSA noting that it was not liable for time spent changing clothing. The employees argued the article were not “clothing” as intended by the act, but highly specialized safety equipment specific to job performance.
The court of appeals agreed with U.S Steel and found that the time it took each employee to remove each article was de minimus and non-compensable. However, since that decision, the Supreme Court has granted Certiorari to determine what constitutes “changing clothes” under the FLSA. Currently, there is a Circuit split on the issue. The 4th, 6th, 10th, and 11th Circuits have concluded that clothing is anything worn by an employee—including safety gear. On the other hand, the 7th Circuit, in the Sandifer case, ruled that not everything an employee wears is clothing for purposes of the FLSA and specifically excludes safety gear.
Thus, this decision will have to be determined by the Supreme Court.
Regardless of the results, this case will affect both employers and employees in construction and other industrial professions.
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