A $22 million verdict against one of the world’s largest battery manufacturers marks the largest award on record under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the primary federal law that governs minimum wage, overtime, and related issues. The lawsuit against East Penn Manufacturing Co. was filed on behalf of approximately 7,500 employees who accused the company of failing to pay overtime.
The lawsuit highlights the need for employees to be aware of the numerous ways that employers refuse to pay them for actual work duties performed at the beginning or end of a shift. It is also relevant to workers who live in certain states that provide especially strong employee protections in this area. If you are being asked to perform unpaid labor during any part of your work day, talk to us.
What are the Portal-to-Portal Act amendments to the FLSA?
Before explaining the verdict against East Penn, it helps to know more about what is known as the Portal-to-Portal Act amendments codified in the FLSA. “Portal-to-portal pay” is a term that basically means an employee should be paid from the time he or she enters the employer’s property until the time he or she leaves.
Under the amended FLSA rules, employers do not have to pay their employees for time spent on pre- or post-work activities that occur before or after the employee performs his or her core job functions (which are known generally as an employee’s “principal activities”). There is an exception, however, for tasks that are “integral and indispensable” to these core duties.
The phrase “integral and indispensable” has, predictably, sparked litigation in recent years over what the term really means. Lawsuits have been filed over routine employee duties such as bag checks, security screenings, and COVID-19 health screenings, with employees arguing that they should be paid for such tasks.
That’s where the lawsuit against East Penn comes in.
What did East Penn do wrong?
The overtime pay lawsuit was filed against East Penn in 2018, accusing the business of failing to pay employees for time spent changing into uniforms, putting on and taking off personal protective equipment, and showering after shifts. According to the DOL, these activities were integral and indispensable to the employees’ job duties. This is especially the case considering that East Penn makes batteries, which involves exposure to toxic materials such as lead.
East Penn attempted to argue that the employee duties only took up a small amount of time, much too trivial to warrant pay. The problem is that those extra few minutes at the start or end of a shift can add up to hours. Had all the extra time been included in the employees’ weekly hours, they’d have been owed overtime as well. So East Penn not only denied regular wages but time and a half pay, too.
Many states don’t have portal-to-portal limits
As mentioned above, the federal FLSA portal-to-portal rules do exclude certain preliminary and postliminary activity as compensable time unless the employee is engaged in activities that are “integral and indispensable” to his or her core job duties. But some states go even further by offering much stronger employee protections. California, for example, has a more expansive standard that considers whether an employee is subject to an employer’s control at the time he or she is not being paid. One California Supreme Court decision held that “an employee who is subject to the control of an employer does not have to be working during that time to be compensated….”
Other states besides California that didn’t adopt the FLSA’s portal-to-portal limits, and require that employees be paid for essentially all time spent at work, include:
- New Mexico
How The Lore Law Firm Can Help
It’s worth taking a close look at the types of duties your employer makes you do without pay, especially if you reside in one of the specific states mentioned above. The Lore Law Firm is here to ensure that all employees are paid fairly for the time they work. To learn more about portal-to-portal rules or how and when you should be paid for your labor, fill out our confidential client intake form today.