Court OpinionsOff-the-ClockSupreme Court

Pre-Shift Safety Meetings Not Compensable Under FLSA After Integrity Staffing, Says Court

We seem to have talked quite a bit lately about the Supreme Court’s interpretation of “integral and indispensable” activities under the Portal-to-Portal Act in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, but with good reason.  The decision is having a broad impact on the compensability of pre- and post-shift activities and meetings.  While certain types of meetings, such as nurses conducting pre- and post-shift patient handoffs, might be “principal activities” or “integral and indispensable” to an employees’ duties, Integrity Staffing continues to place significant limits on these types of activities.  A district court in Pennsylvania recently held, for example, that mine workers who were required to attend pre-shift safety meetings could not claim compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) because, in the court’s view, the safety meetings were neither “principal activities” nor “integral and indispensable” to them.

The mine workers had argued that the FLSA required that their employer compensate them for the time they spent in 15-minute long, daily pre-shift safety meetings.  The Western District of Pennsylvania found that “[a]ttendance at a pre-shift safety meeting (while perhaps desirable) is not an intrinsic element of conducting underground mining activities.” Therefore, since “the miners are able to perform underground labor regardless of whether they attended the pre-shift meetings,” such meetings were “the sort of activity that is ‘two steps removed’ from the productive activity that, in this case, occurs underground.”  This might seem counterintuitive at first, but the Supreme Court did address this issue generally, and with safety in particular.  Integrity Staffing explained that a preliminary activity that serves a safety purpose is no more necessary to, or an integral part of, the employee’s principal activity solely by virtue of the reason the activity is performed.  In Integrity Staffing, the Supreme Court held that there was no distinction between searches conducted for the safety of the employees and those conducted for the purpose of preventing theft.

Upshot for Employers

This decision adds to the weight of district court and appellate decisions that apply Integrity Staffing‘s “integral and indispensable” test broadly to exclude many pre- and post-shift activities.  The standard has largely proven favorable for employers, both in terms of its clarity and by swinging the pendulum away from expansive views of work activities.  Of course, the decision does not liberate employers from the consequences of requiring substantial uncompensated work for employees, such as higher turnover, greater employee dissatisfaction, and potential union organizing activity.  Employers should be wary of piling on non-compensable duties, even if the FLSA allows it.

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  1. Interesting article!

    So, if an employee-who normally processes insurance claims-volunteered to decorate a bulletin board for a special event and arrived to the employer’s premises an hour before the start of his shift to do so, would the employer be required to compensate the employee for the hour spent decorating the board prior to clocking in, based upon the decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc. vs. Busk?

    1. This hypothetical question would need more information, but the question here really isn’t related to Integrity Staffing, but whether employees can “volunteer” to do work.

      1. Mr. Hass,

        I guess that is my question. Is it considered “work” when the activity is:

        1. unrelated to the job
        2. completed pre or post shift
        3. voluntary and not required by the employer

        Also, would not the board decorating be considered a preliminary activity (since it was done prior to the start of the work shift)-as in the case of Integrity vs. Busk-or is there a difference between a preliminary activity and a pre-shift activity?

        Thank you,

        1. The question you’re asking is a question about “volunteer” work, rather than a question about the preliminary/pre-shift activities that were at issue in Integrity Staffing.

          I’ll address the issue of employers requiring or accepting volunteer work from non-exempt employees in a post later this week. I appreciate the idea!

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