- Some current and former customer service reps for AAA have taken the nationwide auto club to court, alleging that it violated state and federal law by not paying them for the time required to prepare their computers for work (Longoria et al v. American Automobile Association, No. 4:20-cv-00406 (D. Ariz., Sept. 25, 2020)).
- The plaintiffs said they often spent as many as 30 minutes clearing computer cookies and activating the pinpoint mapping system before clocking in. These pre-shift activities were integral to the work because the reps could not perform their jobs until the tasks were complete, the plaintiffs alleged.
- The reps requested an injunction; damages including back pay and unpaid overtime; and that the lawsuit be certified as a collective action. When asked via email for comment, a spokesperson for AAA said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state laws often require that employers pay workers for pre-shift and post-shift activities. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) sometimes considers these activities compensable work time. But the line isn't always completely clear. A 2014 U.S. Supreme Court case concluded that only principal activities — tasks that are an "indispensable" and "integral" part of an employee's duties — are compensable.
Individual circumstances determine whether time spent on such activities is considered hours worked under the FLSA, according to DOL. For example, an employee taking a shower at the end of the workday for his or her own "benefit and convenience" would not need to be paid for that time. However, time spent putting on and taking off required protective gear (sometimes referred to as "donning and doffing") is likely to be considered work time for which employees must be compensated.
Court rulings on the issue vary. Early this year, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that prison officers' pre-shift and post-shift duties were compensable. The court said security screenings and pre-shift briefings, among other things, were compensable under the FLSA because the activities were "integral and indispensable parts of the principal activities" the officers were employed to perform.
Avoiding protracted litigation, PNC Bank agreed to pay $2.75 million to a group of former customer service reps to settle allegations they were regularly required to work off the clock, having been allegedly told not to clock in until after they had booted up their computers and read emails and reference materials.
In a case decided under California law, which is generally viewed as more generous to employees than federal law, Apples’ retail employees scored a win when a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held they should be paid for time spent in bag searches. However, Apple can appeal the ruling to the full court.
Employers sometimes prevail by arguing that the time spent in the activities is de minimis, which means that only a small amount of time was expended. In 2017, a federal trial court in California granted summary judgment to shoe manufacturer Converse in a class action lawsuit challenging mandatory bag checks. Converse was able to show that the bag inspections generally took less than 10 seconds, although the plaintiffs claimed the bag checks sometimes took more than two minutes.