The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a class action decision in favor of employees who sought overtime pay for time spent “donning and doffing” protective gear at a pork processing plant, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA.)
The employees at a Tyson plant wore various types of protective gear to perform the grueling and dangerous work of slaughtering, cutting, and re-trimming pigs for consumption. While the company compensated some employees for the time spent “donning and doffing” the gear, by adding between four and eight minutes to the employees’ daily time records, other employees received no extra time.
As part of the class action claims, the Plaintiffs relied on expert testimony that the “donning and doffing” procedures resulted in an average of 18-25 minutes for doing so, significantly more than the time automatically added by Tyson.
The Supreme Court also stated that damages could be awarded based upon representative evidence, which meant a trial by formula to evaluate the overall damages for each of the class members.
The high court’s opinion made it clear that Federal Courts are not and will not be lenient toward an employer that fails to keep time records as required by the FLSA and it illustrates the unfavorable consequences that can result from such a failure.
The FLSA commands that compensation for time worked be accurate, even if employees spend only a few minutes a day putting on protective gear.
In upholding class action status, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that the Tyson employees worked at the same plant and wore the same type of protective gear. In addition, many of them were subject to the same policy of adding a predetermined amount of time to compensate for “donning and doffing” activities.