Fifth Circuit’s FLSA Meal Break Decision Exposes Limit of Supreme Court’s Integrity Staffing Decision
Yesterday, I profiled Naylor v. Securiguard, a Fifth Circuit decision with a seemingly unique fact pattern (security guards on a naval base) with potentially broader impact. As I mentioned yesterday, Naylor exposes some of the limits of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, a case asking whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
A couple of readers wrote yesterday to ask me to explain this point in a bit more detail. As one of them correctly pointed out, Integrity Staffing was a clear win for employers. In that case, warehouse workers sued Integrity Staffing under the FLSA for uncompensated time they were required to spend in lengthy security screenings (lasting up to 25 minutes) at the end of their shifts during their assignments to work in Amazon warehouses. A unanimous Supreme Court held that the workers could not claim compensation for the time spent going through security screenings aimed at protecting against theft because these activities were not integral and indispensable to their principal duties. How does a case like Naylor expose the limits of that otherwise expansive holding?
In Integrity Staffing, the Court found that the security screenings were not integral and indispensable to the “performance of productive work,” as the FLSA regulations require. The Court observed that, unlike requiring pre-shift donning and doffing of protective gear, Integrity Staffing could have completely eliminated the security screenings altogether without impairing the safety or effectiveness of the employees’ principal activities. Naylor shows the limitations of Integrity Staffing because the analysis that applies under the Portal-to-Portal Act, where employers generally need only compensate employees for “preliminary” (pre-shift) and “postliminary” (post-shift) activities that are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal activities, does not apply to meal and other breaks during a shift.
As we discussed yesterday, meal breaks are governed by a different FLSA regulation, one that requires employers to give employees the opportunity to use a meal break “for his or her own purposes.” While the test employed by the Fifth Circuit might look similar to Integrity Staffing on the surface, it actually flips the test in favor of employees. Lots of activities–like driving to a break area in Naylor–may not be be “integral or indispensable” to the job, but they could certainly “predominantly benefit” the employer, making them compensable for purposes of calculating meal and rest breaks.
Upshot for Employers
Integrity Staffing limited the scope of what constitutes “integral and indispensable” activities, but only before and after shifts. While a more limited view of an employee’s principal activities should prove valuable to employers looking for certainty about the compensability of a host of pre- and post-shift activities, cases like Naylor show that activities during a shift, including those preceding or following a meal break still have some of the same compensability pitfalls.