The issue of “donning and doffing” has been in the news again lately, thanks to the case of Perez v. Moutainaire Farms, Inc. right here in North Carolina.
Donning and doffing refers to the action of putting on or taking off protective gear, uniforms, etc. that are required for the job and kept at the workplace. Employees have to change into or out of the special gear after they arrive at your site, but before they can actually start work. It’s a common practice at locations such as nuclear power plants, steel refineries or poultry / meat processing facilities.
The Question Is…
…Should you have to pay employees for time they spend getting ready for work? It turns out that depends on what they’re doing and where you’re located. Here’s a sampling of rulings from various Federal Appeals Courts up and down the east coast:
- In the case of Gormon v. Consolidated Edison Corp., the Second Circuit (CT, NY, VT) ruled nuclear power plant employees were not entitled to pay for donning and doffing their protective gear and going through security because the activities were “relatively effortless.”
- On the other hand, in Tyson Foods Inc. v. De Ascencio, the Third Circuit (DE, NJ, PA) decided poultry plant employees should be paid for time spend donning and doffing protective gear.
- Putting a slight twist on the situation, in Perez v. Mountaire Farms, Inc., the Fourth Circuit (MD, NC, SC, VA, WV) said time spent donning and doffing protective gear at the beginning and end of the workday is compensable time… but time spent donning and doffing the same gear when employees take meal breaks is not.
- However, in Anderson v. Cagle’s Inc., the Eleventh Circuit (AL, FL, GA) ruled union poultry plant employees were not entitled to pay for time spent donning and doffing because of provisions in their collective bargaining agreement.
Big Potential Liability, But How Much?
Of particular note, in Perez v. Moutainaire Farms, Inc., the company’s expert calculated the time spend donning and doffing at around 10 minutes per day. Meanwhile, the plaintiff employees said the time was closer to 21 minutes per day. (Bit of a difference there!)
Since there were no actual time records to rely on, the judge split the difference and estimated the time at 17 minutes per day. Two years equals about 500 workdays. At 17 minutes per day, that works out to around 142 hours — just under 18 days — of unpaid time per employee. When you consider that at least some of this time will likely have to be paid at time and a half overtime, you can get an idea of the potential exposure you might face in a similar situation.
The Bottom Line
If a donning and doffing issue might apply to you:
- Consult with your employment law attorney to make sure your pay practices are in compliance with the latest rulings in your jurisdiction. Be sure to factor in the amount of time and effort it takes for employees to put on or take off the gear — the harder it is or the longer it takes, the more likely it is the time should be paid.
- Even if you and your lawyer decide you aren’t required (at least for now) to pay employees for donning and doffing time, track that time anyway. You never know when a new court case might change the criteria, or when you might find yourself in court having to justify your decision. You want to make sure any decisions or calculations the court might make are based on actual time records, not somebody’s “best guess.”
If you aren’t happy with your current time clock, or you don’t have a time and attendance solution in place, look to Acroprint for a complete line of traditional punch clocks, time tracking software and even an online time clock that lets you track employee time over the web.