7th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules Employees Entitled to Compensation for Time Spent Donning Safety Gear Under State Law

The federal government passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to ensure that American workers would be paid appropriately for the work they provide. While some people may think of the FLSA as a statute that is concerned only with getting workers their unpaid overtime, the language of the law is broad enough to ensure that employees are paid for all of their time spent working, regardless of whether that time is overtime or not. Our Downers Grove wage and hour class-action attorneys found a case in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals involving employees who were not paid for the time they spent donning safety gear and wanted to share it with our readers.

In Spoerle vs. Kraft Foods Global, Plaintiffs were employed in Defendant’s plant in Madison, Wisconsin preparing meat products as hourly workers and spent several minutes at the outset of each work day putting on steel-toed boots, hard hats, and other safety gear required to perform the job. Plaintiffs filed suit to challenge a trade-off — struck in a collective bargaining agreement between Plaintiffs’ union and Defendant — where Plaintiffs would not be paid for their time spent donning this protective gear in exchange for a higher base pay rate. The FLSA permits such a tradeoff under §203(o), but Plaintiffs argued that Wisconsin law has no equivalent exception, and therefore state law requires payment for time spent donning such gear. Defendant argued that the FLSA and federal labor laws pre-empt the state law, so the CBA agreement should be honored and the time spent dressing in safety gear should remain noncompensable. The district court found in favor of the Plaintiffs, and Defendant appealed.

On appeal, defendant argued that §203(o) was the federal government’s decision to “permit a collectively bargained resolution to supersede the rules otherwise applicable to determining the number of hours worked.” The Court of Appeals did not find this argument persuasive, however, because nothing placed in a CBA exempts an employer from state laws of general application. Therefore, the Court found that the district court did not err in ruling that Plaintiffs were entitled to be paid for their time spent equipping themselves with safety gear.

Lubin Austermuehle is a firm of attorneys focusing on nationwide class-action lawsuits and we and our co-counsel have successfully handled many large wage and hour disputes. Our Chicagoland overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Whether due to an employer’s misclassification or miscalculation, when workers do not receive the wages they should, a lawsuit can help to recover the wages that are rightfully theirs. Lubin Austermuehle is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Skokie wage and hour attorneys by phone at 1 630-333-0333, or through our online form.

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