Seventh Circuit Affirms Compensability of Donning/Doffing Time Under State Law Notwithstanding an Applicable Exception Under the FLSA

Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act provides that time spent changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of the workday may be excluded from hours worked pursuant to the terms of, or custom or practice under a collective bargaining agreement. Many states impose their own wage and hour requirements, however. In Spoerle v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc., the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Section 203(o) does not preempt state wage and hour law that does not contain an equivalent exception for time spent changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of the workday.

In Spoerle, the employees were required to wear safety gear, such as steel-toed boots and hard hats, as well as a smock and hair nets. Each worker spent a few minutes at the beginning and end of the day donning and doffing these items. The employer and the employees’ union had agreed that this time was not compensable. The Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s argument that protective gear was not “clothing” under Section 203(o). The Court of Appeals held, however, that because Wisconsin’s own wage-and-hour legislation lacked any equivalent to Section 203(o), the donning and doffing time counted as work time (and overtime) under state law.

The Court of Appeals relied upon the “saving clause” of the FLSA, which provides that no provision of the Act “shall excuse noncompliance” with any state law that establishes a higher minimum wage or a lower overtime threshold. Nothing in Section 203(o) limited the ability of states to impose broader requirements.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the argument that state law interfered in the parties’ collective bargaining. According to the court, the state statute did not require an interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement. Rather, the statute required that the agreement be ignored to the extent it attempted to avoid the obligations imposed by state wage and hour law. Management and labor acting jointly through a CBA could not override state substantive law.

This entry was written by Andrew Voss.

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.