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Employers Can Make You Jump Through Hoops—And They Don’t Have to Pay You for It

Employers Can Make You Jump Through Hoops—And They Don’t Have to Pay You for It

photo credit: much ado about nothing via photopin cc

By Leah Nicholls
Staff Attorney

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court held 9-0 that employees who work at Amazon.com warehouses can’t get paid for the time they spend waiting in long security lines and going through security at the end of their shifts.

The upshot is that an employer could require its employees to do virtually anything on their way out the door, as long as it isn’t the part of the job the employee was hired for, and the employer doesn’t have to pay the employees to do it. Like, for example, literally jump through hoops.

Two employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, which supplies workers to Amazon warehouses, sued because they spent 25 minutes a day going through security at the end of their shifts or waiting in line to do so. Going through security was required by Integrity Staffing, and the process existed solely to make sure that the employees weren’t stealing anything. The employees pointed out that Integrity could have minimized the amount of time spent in the security line by staggering shift end-times or employing more security screeners.

The Supreme Court held that security-screening time wasn’t compensable because, even though the employer required the screening, it occurred after the employees’ principal activities (retrieving and packaging items ordered by Amazon customers) had been completed, and didn’t have anything to with the job for which the employees were hired (again, fulfilling Amazon orders).

It’s tempting to blame the Court here, but, unfortunately for workers, the result appears to be compelled by the Portal-to-Portal Act, passed in 1947 to insulate employers from having to pay for time spent by employees coming and leaving work; labor regulations that explicitly state that waiting to check out of a shift is not compensable (29 C.F.R. § 790.7(g)); and Department of Labor policy—it has been the DOL’s position since 1951 that post-shift antitheft security screenings aren’t compensable.

Legally justifiable or not, there’s no doubt that this result puts employees even more at the mercy of their employers than they already are. Basically, employers can force employees to go through processes unrelated to employees’ jobs, and employers don’t have to pay for that time and have no incentive to make it a quick process. 

So, Amazon workers have to stand in long security lines, poultry processors have to wait to don protective gear, and miners have to travel between mine shafts, all without pay. 

It’s unfair for everyone, but it’s most likely the most frustrating to those who need the money the most—low-wage employees juggling multiple jobs who are forced to waste time standing in line without pay.