Workers don’t have a federal right to be paid for time spent in post-shift security searches, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a decision that will help Amazon.com fend off lawsuits seeking more than $100 million.
The justices unanimously rejected claims by former Amazon warehouse workers against the company that staffs many of the online retailer’s facilities. The case centered on the reach of federal wage laws.
The ruling, which comes in the middle of the retail industry’s busy holiday season, may shield other companies as well as Amazon. Apple, CVS Health, J.C. Penney, TJX and Ross Stores are all battling similar cases involving distribution centers or stores.
Companies say screening is a valuable tool to guard against theft. Employees say what’s being stolen is their time.
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In the case before the court, Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro said workers in two Nevada warehouses had to spend as much as 25 minutes after their shifts waiting to pass through metal detectors. Amazon disputes that assertion.
Amazon wasn’t directly involved in the Supreme Court case, which concerned its staffing company, Integrity Staffing Solutions.
Under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, workers are entitled to compensation for their “principal activities.” Although a 1947 statute known as the Portal-to-Portal Act limited compensation for pre-work and post-work activities, the Supreme Court in 1956 said workers must be paid for activities that are “integral and indispensable” to the job itself.
Writing for the court on this case, Justice Clarence Thomas said the security screenings didn’t meet that test.
“The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment,” Thomas wrote.
The high court ruling doesn’t preclude workers from pressing similar claims in states that have their own wage laws. The workers’ lead lawyer, Mark Thierman, said workers should be able to press state-law claims in California, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
“I’m disappointed in the result because as a practical matter, it leaves all those employed in FLSA-only states without redress for a half hour of time required by the employer to be away from their families,” Thierman said.
Brill said the ruling might also preclude state-law claims because many of those laws mirror the federal statute.
Kelly Cheeseman, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Amazon, said the allegations of long warehouse security lines were false.
“Data shows that employees typically walk through security with little or no wait, and Amazon has a global process that ensures the time employees spend waiting in security is less than 90 seconds,” she said.