Workers lose fair-pay case over hours spent in security screenings

In this April 26, 2014 file photo, people walk on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.
In this April 26, 2014 file photo, people walk on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.
(Jacquelyn Martin / AP)

Workers need not be paid for the time they are required to spend in line for security screenings, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a victory for Amazon and other retailers.

In a 9-0 decision, the justices rejected a fair-pay lawsuit brought by warehouse workers in Nevada who package and ship products for Amazon.

The workers argued they deserved extra pay because they had to spend as much as 25 minutes at the end of each day going through a security screening designed to prevent thefts.


Federal law says employers must pay workers a minimum wage and for overtime, but only for the time they are engaged in the “principal activity” of their jobs, not for the time of coming and going to their work sites.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled for the Nevada warehouse workers on the grounds they were required to stand in line for the security screening. This added time to their work days, and it was done for the benefit for the employer, the appeals court said last year.

This decision triggered several class-action lawsuits brought by workers seeking back pay from Amazon, Apple, CVS and other retailers who rely on warehouse and distributors.

But the Supreme Court took up the company’s appeal and reversed the 9th Circuit’s ruling. Federal law covers only the “productive work that the employee is employed to perform,” Justice Clarence Thomas said in the case of Integrity Staffing Solutions vs. Busk.

“Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.”

The workers need not be paid, Thomas said, because their principal work does not include “the employees’ time spent waiting to undergo screenings.”

Earlier this year, the high court also said federal law does not require paying workers for the time they spend putting on or taking off special clothing.

Twitter: @DavidGSavage