Over the past several years, companies have come under scrutiny for a variety of practices that some see as wage theft, including not providing reimbursement for uniforms, requiring some work to be performed off the clocks, and mandating employees clock out for a break even if they don’t take one. Today, Wisconsin’s highest court found that Hormel Foods owes hundreds of workers back wages for failing to provide compensation for the time spent putting on and taking off required clothing and equipment.
The Associated Press reports that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-2 to uphold a lower courts 2014 decision that Hormel Foods owes 330 employees at its Beloit canning plant $195,000 in back wages.
The wages were accrued during the time in which employees put on protective gear — including hard hats, hearing and eye protection, hair nets, and sanitary shoes — required to bring the company into compliance with federal standards.
Per Hormel policy, the AP reports, employees had to be dressed, checked in and at their workstations at their assigned start times to be considered on time. They were not paid for the time before and after their shift in which they put on or took off gear.
Under state Department of Workforce Development rules, an employee must be paid for all the time spend in physical and mental exertion controlled or required by the employer.
Hormel argued that it didn’t owe employees for the time spent getting dress and undressed because wearing the gear wasn’t crucial to workers’ activities.
However, the court ruled that the uniforms are integral to sanitation and safety in the workplace, meaning they should be compensated for their time.
“Cleanliness and food safety are ‘intrinsic elements’ of preparing and canning food at the Hormel canning facility,” Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote for the majority. “The clothing and equipment is integral and indispensable to the performance of the employees’ job function … of preparing canned food.”
The AP reports that both the worker’s union and Hormel agreed that the median time for putting on and taking off the gear is 5.7 minutes per day, or about 24 hour each year.
Court: Hormel workers owed for time putting on uniforms [The Associated Press]