As discussed here, the FLSA contains a provision relating to the compensability of time spent donning and doffing uniforms, when the compensability of such time is addressed in a collective bargaining agreement. 29 U.S.C. § 203(o). However, even where a unionized employer through a collective bargaining agreement is not required to pay for such time, if the time is otherwise compensable under state law, the FLSA is no defense, held Judge Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit this week. Spoerle v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc., 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 15960 (7th Cir. Wis. Aug. 2, 2010).

Spoerle concerns the compensability of time spent putting on and taking off “safety gear, such as steel-toed boots and hard hats, plus a smock that keeps other garments clean” as well as hair nets and beard nets” at an Oscar Mayer plant in Wisconsin. Id. at * 2. The Court noted that it “takes a few minutes at the start of every day to put these items on, and a few more at day’s end to take them off.” Id. Kraft Foods and the union agreed that this time is not compensable. Id. at * 2-3. However, Kraft Foods also conceded within the context of Spoerle that, but for the existence of a CBA, the time in question would be compensable under Wisconsin’s state wage law. 

As observed by the district court and reiterated by the Seventh Circuit, 29 U.S.C. § 218(a) of the FLSA states:

No provision of this chapter . . . shall excuse noncompliance with any Federal or State law or municipal ordinance establishing a minimum wage higher than the minimum wage established under this chapter or a maximum work week lower than the maximum workweek established under this chapter …. No provision of this chapter shall justify any employer in reducing a wage paid by him which is in excess of the applicable minimum wage under this chapter, or justify any employer in increasing hours of employment maintained by him which are shorter than the maximum hours applicable under this chapter.

This provision codifies an unequivocal proposition: the FLSA does not prevent states from enacting wage laws which provide greater rights to employees. The Court also specifically noted that 203(o) by its plain language is limited to calculating hours worked “for the purposes of sections 206 and 207 of this title.” Id. at * 5. Finally, as explained by the Court, the existence of the CBA did not itself preempt the state wage law because state rules that disregard, rather than interpret, collective bargaining agreements are not preempted by federal labor policy. Id. citing Lingle v. Norge Division of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399 (1988).

Spoerle highlights the need for every organization to develop a full and complete understanding of both the FLSA and all relevant state wage and hour laws. Employers with multi-state operations must be particularly careful to mind the niceties of individual state laws.