Fifth Circuit Rules Employers Do Not Have to Pay for Donning and Doffing Time Despite Failure to Address Issue in Collective Bargaining Negotiations

In Allen v. McWane, the Fifth Circuit considered whether an employer is required to pay for pre- and post-shift donning and doffing of protective gear under Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) where the company and the union never discussed the issue, and where the employees (and union representatives) attested that they were not even aware that changing time could potentially be compensated under the FLSA. Section 203(o) of the FLSA provides that an employer does not have to pay its employees for time “changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday ... by custom or practice under a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(o).

The employees principally argued that Section 203(o) was inapplicable because the union did not “affirmatively” bargain away potential compensable donning and doffing time during negotiations and, therefore, the company could not have a “custom or practice under a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.” In particular, the employees relied on Kassa v. Kerry, Inc., 487 F. Supp. 2d 1063 (D. Minn. 2007), where the court “identified three elements as essential to determine the existence of a ‘custom or practice‘ under § 203 (o): time, knowledge, and acquiescence.” In Kassa, the district court found that the employer’s custom and practice did not meet these requirements because the record only established non-payment by the company for six years. In contrast, in Allen, the company had not compensated its employees for changing time since 1965. Moreover, the court noted that the employees knew that they were not being compensated for that time, and whether they were aware of their legal rights under the FLSA was not a relevant consideration. Consequently, the court affirmed summary judgment.

The court also rejected the employees’ contention that Section 203(o) should be characterized as an “exemption” under the FLSA, thereby shifting the burden of proof to the employer to establish the exemption as an affirmative defense.. The court reasoned that Section 203 “is a list of definitions and subsection (o) addresses how to define and calculate ‘hours worked,’ in contrast to Section 213, which is titled ‘Exemptions.’”

The Fifth Circuit is now in accord with the Third and Eleventh Circuits, which also have concluded that it is not necessary to raise the issue of compensation for donning and doffing time in negotiations. Anderson v. Cagle's, Inc., 488 F.3d 945, 958-59 (11th Cir. 2007); Turner v. City of Philadelphia, 262 F.3d 222, 226 (3rd Cir. 2001). Notably, only the Ninth Circuit has characterized Section 203(o) as an exemption. See Alvarez v. IBP, Inc., 339 F.3d 894, 905 (9th Cir. 2003), aff’d on other grounds, IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21 (2005); cf. Anderson, 488 F.3d at 957.

This entry was written by Steven Kaplan.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.