Courts continue to analyze the compensability of preliminary and postliminary time: time spent before or after a non-exempt employee’s shift on certain tasks related to the performance of the employee’s job. Many suits allege the time spent “donning and doffing” of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) related to dangerous work environments (slaughter houses, power plants, etc.) must be compensated as being “integral and indispensible” to the performance of the jobs in question. In a recent opinion, while Magistrate Judge George H. Lowe of the Northern District of New York observed that this legal issue has “troubled courts for more than sixty years,” the Court ultimately determined that former employees of the Massena West aluminum smelting facility operated by Alcoa were not entitled to compensation for time spent putting on and removing “flame retardant shirts and pants, metatarsal (or steel-toed) boots, spats, hard hats with snoods that cover the back of the neck, and safety glasses.” Adams v. Alcoa, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110718 (N.D.N.Y Sept. 27, 2011)
The Adams plaintiffs worked in the potroom and ingot departments of the plant, jobs which required them to be near molten metal and wear the flame retardant shirts and pants, steel-toed boots, spats and hard hats. Alcoa provided the Plaintiffs with extra uniforms, laundered those uniforms, and permitted employees to don/doff the uniforms at home, or in a facility at Massena West. Magistrate Judge Lowe, relying on the Second Circuit’s “extremely narrow” interpretation of the “integral and indispensable” requirement in a factually similar case, along with a Department of Labor advisory memorandum addressing when donning and doffing time is compensable, ruled that the time spent by Plaintiffs putting on PPE was neither “integral” (which required that PPE be necessary to enter a “lethal atmosphere”) nor “indispensable” (which, under the DOL guidance, required that the donning and doffing by necessity occur on premises, not at home). Id. at * 16-27 citing Gorman v. Consolidated Edison Corp., 488 F.3d 586 (2d Cir. 2007).
The scope of the compensable workday for non-exempt employees is a legal concept that is devoid of clairty, and DOL and court guidance on the issue has not always been consistent. Employers must assess what state and federal law require in their jurisdictions with respect to the compensability of all tasks performed by the employee at the employer’s behest.