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.