Department of Labor Determines Employers Must Compensate Unionized Employees for Time Spent Changing

The Department of Labor (DOL) issued an Administrative Interpretation on June 16, 2010, requiring employers to compensate unionized employees for putting on and taking off protective equipment that is “required by law, by the employer, or due to the nature of the job.” Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act permits employers not to pay employees for time spent changing “clothes” if payment is excluded under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement or barred by the custom or practice. The DOL’s Administrative Interpretation determined that protective equipment is not “clothes” under this exception.

The DOL’s determination reinstates its position taken from 1997 through 2001. In 2002, however, the DOL issued an Opinion Letter determining that “clothes” included protective equipment. The DOL’s latest interpretation is in line with court decisions from several federal courts.

The DOL went a step further and determined that putting on protective equipment may be a principal activity. The practical impact is that when an employee changes into protective equipment, this may mark the beginning of the workday and count as compensable time. In short, once an employee changes into protective equipment, you may be required to compensate them for subsequent activities, such as walking to their work station. Regardless of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, employers must compensate employees for adding and removing protective equipment if that equipment is required by law or required by the employer.

Author: Jon Secrest           

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