Monday, January 27, 2014

Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., Docket 12-417

Labor law: compensation for donning-and-doffing: Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938; U. S. Steel contends that this donning-and-doffing time, which would otherwise be compensable under the Act, is noncompensable under a provision of its collective bargaining agreement with petitioners’ union. That provision’s valid­ity depends on 29 U. S. C. §203(o), which allows parties to collectively bargain over whether “time spent in changing clothes . . . at the be­ginning or end of each workday” must be compensated; held: The time petitioners spend donning and doffing their protective gear is not compensable by operation of §203(o).
This Court initially construed compensability under the Fair Labor Standards Act expansively. See, e.g., Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U. S. 680. The Act was amended in 1949, however, to provide that the compensability of time spent “changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday” is a subject appro­priately committed to collective bargaining, §203(o). Whether peti­tioners’ donning and doffing qualifies as “changing clothes” depends on the meaning of that statutory phrase; the term “clothes,” which is otherwise undefined, is “interpret­ed as taking its ordinary, contemporary, common meaning.” Perrin v. United States, 444 U. S. 37, 42. In dictionaries from the era of §203(o)’s enactment, “clothes” denotes items that are both designed and used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of dress. Nothing in §203(o)’s text or context suggests anything other than this ordinary meaning. There is no basis for petitioners’ propo­sition that the unmodified term “clothes” somehow omits protective clothing. Section 203(o)’s exception applies only when the changing of clothes is “an integral and indispensable part of the principal activ­ities for which covered workmen are employed,” Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U. S. 247, 256, and thus otherwise compensable under the Act. See 29 U. S. C. §254(a). And protective gear is the only clothing that is integral and indispensable to the work of many occupations, such as butchers and longshoremen; the interpretation adopted here leaves room for distinguishing between clothes and wearable items that are not clothes, such as some equipment and devices. The view of respondent and its amici that “clothes” encompasses the entire out­fit that one puts on to be ready for work is also devoid of any textual foundation; while the normal meaning of “changing clothes” connotes sub­stitution, “changing” also carried the meaning to “alter” at the time of §203(o)’s enactment. The broader statutory context makes plain that “time spent in changing clothes” includes time spent in altering dress. Whether one exchanges street clothes for work clothes or simply chooses to layer one over the other may be a matter of purely personal choice, and §203(o) should not be read to allow workers to opt into or out of its coverage at random or at will when another reading is textually permissible; applying these principles here, it is evident that the donning and doffing in this case qualifies as “changing clothes” under §203(o). Of the 12 items at issue, only 3—safety glasses, earplugs, and a res­pirator—do not fit within the elaborated interpretation of “clothes.”; apparently concerned that federal judges would have to separate the minutes spent clothes-changing and washing from the minutes de­voted to other activities during the relevant period, some Courts of Appeals have invoked the doctrine de minimis non curat lex (the law does not take account of trifles). But that doctrine does not fit com­fortably within this statute, which is all about trifles. A more appro­priate way to proceed is for courts to ask whether the period at issue can, on the whole, be fairly characterized as “time spent in changing clothes or washing.” If an employee devotes the vast majority of that time to putting on and off equipment or other non-clothes items, the entire period would not qualify as “time spent in changing clothes” under §203(o), even if some clothes items were also donned and doffed. But if the vast majority of the time is spent in donning and doffing “clothes” as defined here, the entire period qualifies, and the time spent putting on and off other items need not be subtracted (U.S.S.Ct., 27.01.2014, Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., Docket 12-417, J. Scalia).

Droit du travail : droit au salaire pour le temps passé à revêtir et retirer des habits de travail ? Dans les cas où s’applique la loi fédérale de 1938 sur des standards équitables de travail (les activités du commerce et de l’industrie), le temps passé à revêtir ou retirer des vêtements de travail est compensable, sous réserve d’un accord contraire (notamment dans le cadre d’une convention collective de travail). Le temps passé à s’équiper d’appareils particuliers (équipement de protection autres que des vêtements de protection) doit être distingué, et n’est pas compensé sous l’angle de 29 U.S.C. §203(o), car la notion d’équipement particulier n’est pas comprise dans la notion d’habillement. Dans le détail, revêtir des habits de travail signifie aussi bien changer de vêtements qu’ajouter une couche de vêtement. Mais des lunettes de sécurité, des moyens de protection contre le bruit, ou un respirateur, n’entrent pas dans la définition d’habits. Pour que ce système d’indemnisation soit praticable, si le temps, considéré dans son ensemble, pour s’habiller et s’équiper est largement utilisé pour s’équiper d’appareils particuliers, l’ensemble du temps pour se préparer (donc y compris le temps pour s’habiller et se dévêtir) sera considéré comme du temps non compensable au sens de 29 U.S.C. §203(o). Mais, si l’ensemble du temps passé à se préparer consiste surtout à simplement s’habiller et se dévêtir, l’intégralité du temps sera considérée comme permettant une dérogation à l’indemnisation, même si une petite part de ce temps est réservée à s’équiper d’appareils particuliers.

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