Case of FLSA and definition of clothing


On November 4, 2013, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) case addressing the issue of whether or not steelworkers should be paid for time spent changing into their protective clothing. Section 203 (o) of the FSLA excludes from the definition of hours worked the time spent “changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday” if it has been excluded “by the express terms of or by custom or practice under a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.” However the term “clothes” is not defined in the FSLA.

Clifton Sandifer and a group of current and former steelworkers at the U.S. Steel Corporation’s Gary, Indiana plant sued their employer for violating the FLSA because they failed to compensate them for time spent putting on and taking off their work clothes in the plant’s locker room. The steelworkers union had a collective bargaining agreement in place with the U.S. Steel Corporation since 1947. According to the bargaining agreement, workers are not paid for the time it takes to put on (donning) their safety gear before they start work or the time it takes to take off (doffing) their safety gear at the end of their shift.
Steelworkers must arrive early for each shift to put on their protective gear and travel to their work site in time for their shift to begin. Protective gear includes items such as flame-retardant suits, steel-toed shoes, hard hats, safety glasses, and hoods. Time spent putting on protective gear and traveling to their work site can be substantial for some workers due to the amount of safety gear required and the large size of the plants. In fact, some workers travel by bus from the locker room to the work site due to the size of the plant.

The steelworkers argue that Section 203 (o) is inapplicable because putting on safety gear does not fall within the meaning of the phrase “changing clothes”. They believe “changing clothes” refers only to changing from street clothes to work clothes. The U.S. Steel Corporation argues that safety gear is included within the language “changing clothes” and has been bargained with the union. The Supreme Court has not ruled on this case yet.

Reprinted with permission from the Personnel Testing Council of Metropolitan Washington.