In a 9-0 ruling that can be considered controversial, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has said that workers at an Amazon warehouse facility need not be compensated for the 25 minutes they spend undergoing a security screening at the end of their shift.
The salient arguments underlying the ruling are that:
So, the time spent removing one’s wallet, keys and belts to pass a metal detector; and waiting in line to undergo screening fails to qualify as billable time, because the screening time is not actually spent on any productive labor.
The precedent for this decision was a case in 1947, the Portal-to-Portal Act. In that case, the court established that time spent travelling between the underground portals of a mine to report to was not billable back The judges ruled that the security searches were similar to waiting in line to check in and out of work or traveling to and from their place of work.
This ruling undermines the claims of over 400,000 plaintiffs, whose class-action suits are pending in 13 different cases.
This ruling is disputed using the following arguments:
Employee theft is an unfortunate reality of the retail industry. Retail workers are always in a position where they could steal expensive items and sell them elsewhere. It is common for the industry to have surveillance cameras and constant monitoring of the video feed from them.
If it is true that the screening line at Amazon takes up 90 seconds or less from the employees; this whole case may have been much ado about nothing. If not, it is to be seen how matters progress from here; Amazon’s workers are not represented by a union that would address this issue within the context of a collective bargaining agreement.
It is also to be seen what this ruling means for other employers like Apple whose workers undergo “voluntary screening”. Apple said the screening is not mandatory unless the worker brings in a bag or Apple gear to work; in the first place. However, workers seem to disagree. They have filed a lawsuit claiming back pay for time spent in screening lines. In today’s business environment, where firmly established work schedules are often non-existent, the confusion regarding when one is “at work” is increasing. In these cases, where an employee reports to a work facility but must perform a number of tasks outside of their assigned responsibilities, we can expect additional litigation as workers and employers attempt to establish these boundaries.
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