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Must Employers Pay Employees To Put On Clothes And Equipment Before Their Shift?

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently upheld a circuit court decision awarding $195,000 in back wages to 330 employees who had not been paid for the time spent putting on protecting clothing and gear before their shift.

This case—United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1473 v. Hormel Foods Corp—involved a plant that required employees to wear protective clothing and equipment. The employees were expected to get dressed and checked in prior to their assigned “start time” and to get undressed and checked out upon the conclusion of their shift. However, employees only received pay for their scheduled shift time.

In finding for the employees, the Court emphasized that under Wisconsin law, employees must be paid for pre- and post-shift activities that are closely related to their principal work and “indispensable” to performance. The Court stated that the wearing of clothes and gear by the employees at issue is integral to safe food production and therefore compensable.

Consistent with national trends, the Wisconsin Supreme Court also rejected an argument that the time spent by employees was “de minimis,” or too small to matter. Although the employees could put on the gear and take it off in only 5.7 minutes each day, this recurring activity could take approximately 24 hours over the course of a year. According to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, that is not de minimis.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision reinforces that wage issues remain “hot.” Employers are well advised to think through wage practices that affect large groups of workers. We expect to continue to see class and collective lawsuits attacking employers on various wage fronts over the remainder of 2016.

About the Author

Scott Paler is a Partner practicing out of our Madison office. He is Chair of the Background Screening practice group and a member of the Labor & Employment and Litigation practice groups. Contact Scott by email or by phone at (608) 252-9213.

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