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Changing Out Of Safety Gear is Not Time That Should be on the Clock Federal Appellate Court in Chicago Rules


The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers pay workers for all of the time that the employee spends performing work for the employer. For any work conducted after eight hours in a single day or forty hours in a week, the FLSA requires employers to pay the proper overtime of one and one-half times the employees’ regular rate of pay.

However, the FLSA does not define work and many employees have claimed that they should be paid for the time it takes them to put on and take off protective clothing when such clothing is required by the employer.

In one recent lawsuit, employees at a chicken processing plant claim that they should be paid for the time spent changing into and out of their protective gear at the beginning and end of their lunch break. The employees are provided with a 30-minute meal break, in which they must first take off their protective clothing and wash their hands, and then put their protective clothing back on before returning to work at the end of their unpaid 30-minute break.

The plaintiffs do not argue that the meal break should be compensated. Rather, they argue that the time spent changing into and out of their protective gear should be compensated. They filed a claim for overtime under the FLSA and another claim for overtime under Illinois Wage Law. Since the latter is more generous, a court might find that a violation of Illinois Wage Law did occur, even if it finds that there was no violation of the federal law.

The federal judge ruled in favor of the employer on all counts. The employees appealed the decision and the case went to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The FLSA does not require employers to pay employees for time spent taking meal breaks. As far as time spend changing clothes, the Act states that “any time spent in changing clothes at the beginning or end of each workday which was excluded from measured working time … by the express terms of or by custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement applicable to the particular employee.”

The employees involved in the current lawsuit are part of a union, which has a collective-bargaining agreement with the employer, which states that time spent changing into and out of the protective gear is not compensable time. The plaintiffs argue, though, that the requirement to change into and out of their protective gear during their lunch break violates the FLSA because the federal statute only covers changing time at the beginning and end of a workday.

The employees said that it takes 10-15 minutes to change into and out of the protective gear, while the employer argued that it only took 2-3 minutes.

The judges were left without a way of determining which side was correct, or if the truth lay somewhere in the middle. They considered videotaping employees in the process of putting on and taking of the protective gear, but decided that they would have cause to dawdle in doing so. The company, on the other hand, could find some speed demons who change more quickly than normal. To settle the matter, the judges procured items similar to those described in the lawsuit as protective gear required by the employer. They were videotaped putting on and taking off the protective clothing and found that it took only 15 seconds to take off and 95 seconds to put on. While such a test could not be submitted as evidence in the current lawsuit, it gave the judges an idea of the time employees spend changing into and out of their protective gear.

The Chicago class action and employment law lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims by large corporations such as Wal-Mart, Sears and K-Mart Logistics for misclassifying employees as managers or assistant managers, failing to pay for meal breaks, forcing employees to work off the clock at business, failing to share all tips, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim these wage theft practices call us at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.

The Chicago class action attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have three decades of experience fighting to help employees who are victims of wage, overtime and tip theft by their employers. We have a team of Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers who concentrate on prosecuting state and nationwide class action lawsuits. Our attorneys work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and pursue claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Waukegan and North Chicago. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Cook Counties.

Our Rolling Meadows and Kenosha overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.

The Chicago Overtime Law Center is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Chicago class action attorneys by phone at (312) 869-4095 or through our online form.