U.S. Supreme Court Defines “Changing Clothes” Under FLSA


The United States Supreme Court recently ruled (Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., No. 12-417 (US 2014)) that time spent donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) protective gear fell within the meaning of “changing clothes” of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and was thus noncompensable time pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.

Ordinarily, travel time and other activities that are preliminary and postliminary to an employee’s principal employment activity are noncompensable time. Also, the FLSA expressly defines “hours worked” to exclude “any time spent in changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday which was excluded from measured working time during the week involved by the express terms of or by custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement applicable to the particular employee.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(o).

In Sandifer, the parties entered into a collective bargaining agreement generally providing that changing clothes was noncompensable. Plaintiffs, however, brought a collective action seeking back-pay for time spent donning and doffing various pieces of protective gear that U.S. Steel required them to wear because of the hazards in steel plants, including a flame-retardant jacket, pair of pants, and hood; a hardhat; a snood; wristlets; work gloves; leggings; metatarsal boots; safety glasses; earplugs; and a respirator.

Plaintiffs argued that donning and doffing this protective gear was not “changing clothes” for purposes of 29 U.S.C. § 203(o) of the FLSA. The Court disagreed. It held that most of these items fell within the common definition of “clothes” – “they are both designed and used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of dress.” Further, the Court held that the time spent putting on and off the other items – glasses, earplugs, and a respirator – was de minimis and hence noncompensable.

This article is followed by Security Screens May Breed Insecurity, which explores another aspect of compensable labor under FLSA.

If you have any questions regarding donning and doffing or other developments in Employment Law, please contact Ray Rinkol.

Raymond R. Rinkol, Jr.
Civil Litigation, Creditors' Rights, Labor & Employment Law