State Laws May Help Workers Get Paid While Waiting For Security Checks

Image courtesy of (Kenny Yeo)

A recent Supreme Court decision settled the question of whether workers should be paid for the time they spend having their belongings checked by security on the way out of work. The Supremes said “no,” but there may be room in state laws for retail and warehouse workers to be compensated for the time they spend waiting and being searched.

The key question in the federal case, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk et al., was whether the time that workers (in an Amazon order fulfillment center, in this specific case) spend waiting in line for security checks before they leave work and time they spend being checked is “integral and indispensable” to their jobs. That’s the language in a 1956 Supreme Court ruling: that case involved butchers who demanded to be paid for time spent sharpening the knives that they used to do their jobs.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that other companies, including retail stores, have faced similar lawsuits regarding the question of whether employees should be paid for security checks. The Busk ruling is clear and favors businesses: since the employees are not hired to stand in lines or undergo security checks, doing so is not part of their jobs. That’s federal law, though. State laws may differ, and the statute in California does.

California’s Supreme Court ruled almost 15 years ago that while federal law might limit what activities an employee can be paid for while at work, states can set a different standard if they want to. California’s statute says that employees must be paid for any time they spend “under the control of an employer.” If someone is required to wait for a security check before leaving the store where they work, they are still under the employer’s control. In the 2000 ruling, California’s Supremes explained that “an employee who is subject to an employer’s control does not have to be working during that time to be compensated.” They can be waiting for a supervisor to check their purse, or waiting for their backpack to roll down a conveyor belt.

Other states have similar statutes, and the lawyer who argued Busk has lawsuits based on state law ongoing in California and three other states. If the state courts agree that workers are eligible for pay, that could become very expensive for retailers that are currently making employees wait off the clock.

Apple and Amazon’s Unpaid Security Checks Face a New Challenge in State Courts [Bloomberg Businessweek]

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