A Tale of Two Statutes: What are Compensable “Hours Worked”?

Tuesday, August 24 2021 13:12 Written by  Michael Klimpl


A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court underscores the fact that although an employer may be in compliance with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), it may at the same time be in violation of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”).

The case, In Re: Amazon.Com, Inc. et al. v. Amazon.com, Inc., Amazon.com.DEDC, LLC, and Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (43 EAP 2019), involved a class action brought by two employees who worked at an Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania and sought to be compensated for time spent at the premises waiting to undergo and undergoing mandatory security screening.

As discussed below, a federal district court had dismissed the employees’ claims under the FLSA and the PMWA, but the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals certified the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to address the questions as to whether the PMWA applied to the employees’ claims and whether there is a de minimus exception to the PMWA.

In its certification to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, as noted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, summarized the relevant, undisputed facts (referring to all three defendants collectively as “Amazon”):

[Employees] worked at Amazon’s “logistics facility/fulfillment center” located in a large warehouse in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania. [Appellant] Heimbach worked for Amazon while [Appellant] Salasky worked for Integrity Staffing Solutions. Amazon and Integrity “separately employ[ed] hundreds of hourly workers at the Facility.” The workers’ duties included “receiving deliveries of merchandise, transporting merchandise to its appropriate location within the Facility, ‘picking’ merchandise from storage locations, and processing merchandise for shipping.”

Hourly employees clocked in and out on time clocks at the beginning and end of their shifts, respectively. After clocking out at the end of their shifts, employees were required to undergo antitheft security screening, which included metal detectors, searches of bags and other personal items, and “a secondary screening process if the metal detector’s alarm sound[ed].” While [Employees] and [Amazon] disagree as to the amount of time this screening took on average, no party disputes that [Amazon] did not compensate [their] employees for the time it took to wait in line for and undergo these security screenings.

In re Amazon.com, Inc.et al. v. Amazon.com,Inc., Amazon.com.DEDC, LLC, and Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. , 942 F.3d 297, 299 (6th Cir. 2019) (footnote omitted).

The federal district court had dismissed the claim under the FLSA (as amended by the federal Portal-to- Portal -Act (“PTPA”), and as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court) because the activities at issue were either preliminary to or postliminary to the employees’ principal activities. Under the PTPA , activities are not compensable “which are preliminary or postliminary to said principal activity or activities[of the employee] [and] . . . which occur either prior to the time on a particular workday at which employee commences, or subsequent to the time on any particular workday at which he ceases such principal activity or activities…” The federal district court applied this criteria to the PMWA and determined that the employees’ claims were not compensable.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, upon certification of the case from the Court of Appeals, ruled otherwise. It held that the provisions of the PTPA should not be applied in interpreting the PMWA and concluded that the “the time spent on an employer’s premises waiting to undergo and undergoing mandatory security screening constitutes ‘hours worked’ under the PMWA ..” and therefore is compensable. The Supreme Court also found that unlike federal law, the de minimis doctrine does not apply to the PMWA and there is no exception to the PMWA for insubstantial, insignificant or trivial periods of time that might otherwise be compensable.

Employers should understand from this case, that compensable “hours worked” under the PMWA can be broader than previously thought and that there is no recognized exception for trivial deviations from the law.

In general, as illustrated by this case, states laws may be more beneficial for employees than the FLSA. Another example: while both the Pennsylvania minimum wage and the federal minimum wage are currently $7.25 per hour, there is nothing prohibiting Pennsylvania from raising the minimum wage.

To learn more about Michael Klimpl and Antheil Maslow & MacMinn's employment law services, visit ammlaw.com.

Last modified on Tuesday, August 24 2021 13:22
Michael Klimpl

Michael Klimpl

Michael’s practice areas include Real Estate, Municipal Law, Zoning and Land Use, Employment Law, Civil Litigation, Estate Planning and Estate Administration, with a concentration in the areas of employment law, estate planning and administration, and transactional law.

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