Donning and doffing is a term of art in the employment context. There has been considerable litigation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) over the years regarding whether employers must pay employees for time spent putting on and taking off (i.e, “donning and doffing”) various types of gear during the workday.  After passing on this issue several times, yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to consider the question of what constitutes “changing clothes” within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act in Clifton Sandifer et al. v. U.S. Steel Corp

This case was initially brought by a group of approximately 800 unionized workers (current and former) at a U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Indiana. These employees had previously agreed in their union contract that the time spent donning and doffing earplugs and safety glasses, which are not clothes, was de minimus, and therefore not compensable working time. However, they now contend that donning personal protective gear is “a principal activity” they are employed to perform. The requirement to put on this gear triggers the start of the work day, and they should therefore be paid for this time. 

The Supreme Court’s decision will be significant because safety rules requiring that workers wear personal protective equipment and safety clothing is common in manufacturing facilities. A few additional minutes on the time clock, depending on how an employer calculates increments of time during the workday, could amount to a considerable amount of additional labor expenses. Failing to apply the correct donning and doffing standards can prompt wage and hour complaints that could result in an adverse decision against employers, including penalties and employee back pay.

The case is expected to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court next term, which begins in October 2013.

The lower court of appeals decision may be found at: