Applying the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that firefighters are not entitled to compensation under the FLSA for time spent moving certain necessary gear to and from temporary work assignments at fire stations other than their “home” stations. Balestrieri v. Menlo Park Fire Prot. Dist., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 15785 (9th Cir. Sept. 4, 2015).
At issue in Balestrieri was whether the transportation of gear by plaintiff-firefighters from their home station to a “visiting station” in order to voluntarily cover an extra shift was “integral and indispensable” to the firefighters’ principal duties, and thus compensable. Upholding the “clearly-plain” accuracy of the trial district court’s decision, the Ninth Circuit held this activity was not “integral and indispensable” to their principal work activities. The Court analogized the activity to office workers who “may drive to their work locations, park, and walk to where they work, before they go on the clock,” such as a “lawyer who may put on a suit and tie that he does not wear to the mall on Saturday.” Mirroring the Supreme Court’s holding in Integrity Staffing, the Court explained just because activity may be necessary as a practical condition of employment, it is not on that basis alone compensable for the purposes of the FLSA under the Portal-to-Portal Act.
The Court based its decision on the standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Integrity Staffing, noting that the Supreme Court reviewed and reversed the Circuit’s decision in that case, which had found certain activity – security screening wait time – compensable because it was for the employer’s benefit. Accordingly, the court applied the Supreme Court’s formulation of the test for compensability, namely whether the activity is “tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform.” Based on such application, the court ruled that “When the firefighter has put his name on the list for overtime calls, he is free to take his gear home, and if he gets a call, he can go to the visiting station for the assigned shift without even stopping by his home station. Thus, driving to the home station first [to retrieve his or her gear] is not ‘indispensable’ to the firefighters’ principal activities.”
Separately, the Court held that the employer did not need to include amounts paid for “annual leave buyback” in its calculation of the firefighters’ regular rates of pay for the purposes of determining overtime.
Balestrieri reflects a court’s consideration of common wage-hour claims faced by public sector employers, and is required reading for state and local administrators responsible for compliance.