Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Beware pre- and postliminary activities

In Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, the Supreme Court held that the FLSA only requires employers to compensate employees for time spent performing "preliminary" (pre-shift) and "postliminary" (post-shift) activities that are "integral and indispensable" to an employee’s principal activities. What are "integral and indispensable?" Those activities that are (1) "necessary to the principal work performed" and (2) "done for the benefit of the employer."

In Busk, for example, the Court held that post-shift security screenings were not "integral and indispensable" for an Amazon warehouse employee, because such screenings are not "an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment," and the employer "could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees' ability to complete their work."

In light of these standards, consider Mireles v. Hooters of Am., LLC, filed late last year in a Houston, Texas, federal court. A Hooters waitress claims that her employer unlawfully withholds pay for postliminary activities.

According to the lawsuit, Hooters requires its "Girls" to be "approachable, upbeat, and attentive to the needs of the guests as she socially engages with and entertains each individual guest at the front door and on the floor." Accordingly, it requires that they spend substantial post-shift time "conversing with customers about topics unrelated to Defendants' food and beverage offerings or local attractions, and spending substantial time waiting for managers to reconcile their sales receipts and tips towards the end of each shift."

Are these waitresses entitled to be paid? Who knows. The point to be made runs much deeper.

There is a fine line between what is "integral and indispensable." If the waitresses are required to be "attentive to the needs of the guests" and "socially engaging," then I can craft an argument that time spent schmoozing post-shift should be compensated, just as I can make the point that such activities have nothing to do with the principal work of serving wings and beer. These off-the-clock cases are difficult, expensive, and risky. If you lose, you're not just paying your lawyer, but also the plaintiffs' lawyer.

In other words, before you decide that your employees' pre- and postliminary time is non-compensible, stop, take a deep breath, and call your employment lawyer.