On May 30, 2014, Judge William Alsup of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California denied summary judgment to the defendant in an interesting and potentially consequential wage-and-hour case: Frleckin, et al. v. Apple, Inc. The relevant laws here are the Fair Labor Standards Act as amended by the so-called Portal-to-Portal Act. Roughly, under the FLSA employees are entitled to at least the minimum wage for all hours worked, and premium overtime pay for all hours in excess of forty per week, except where the law specifies exemptions to these requirements. The Portal-to-Portal Act, passed by Congress in 1947, specifies that under the FLSA employees need not be paid minimum wage or overtime for time spent traveling to and from work, or for activities that are “preliminary or postliminary” to the “principal activity or activities” of the job.
Both the District Court and the U.S. Supreme Court are now forced to wrestle with the central legal question of this case: exactly which of the activities that an employer requires of an employee are compensable under the FLSA? The Plaintiffs in Frleckin are the class of Apple customer support Specialists plus their Managers, all employees at the hundreds of Apple retail stores located across the United States. The complaint alleges that these employees of Apple retail stores have been required to undergo security screening after their shifts end; that this screening has routinely taken between 10 and 25 minutes for these workers; and that the FLSA requires that they be compensated for this time, in many cases at their overtime rate of pay. The Court gave two main reasons for not granting summary judgment. The first reason is that different practices and interpretations of Apple’s policies at different store locations give rise to issues of material fact that would need to be sorted out by the Court. The second reason is that the case gives rise to a “novel question of law:” whether Apple’s security screening of employees should be treated under the law as i) an “integral and indispensable” part of those employees’ jobs, and thus not exempt, or ii) a “postliminary” activity that the Portal-to-Portal act made exempt under the FLSA.
Noting that his decision in this case hinges on a novel legal question, and that there is currently a case under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court which raises the same issues, Judge Alsup decided to stay the Frlekin action pending the Supreme Court’s decision. In this other case, Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., Plaintiffs are workers at Amazon.com warehouses, who are required to undergo screening off-the-clock before they can leave the workplace, to prevent theft of merchandise. The District Court in Busk had granted the Defendant’s motion to dismiss, arguing that the workers “could perform their warehouse jobs without such daily security screenings,” implying that the screenings were not integral to their jobs. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, reasoning that, at least in the case of Integrity’s warehouse workers, the need for security screening arises from the nature of the work and is thus in a relevant sense “integral and indispensable” rather than “postliminary.”
Needless to say, there are serious questions of law and commerce about to be answered by our courts in these cases.
If you are an employee and you believe your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act have been violated, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.