Will U.S. Supreme Court Approve Pay for Security Checks?

On March 3, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court took a case brought by Amazon.com warehouse employees, thus agreeing to rule whether workers should be paid for their time spent on going through theft-deterrence screenings at the end of their shifts.  This case will be heard in the fall and could affect approximately 600,000 current and former employees at Amazon, as well as other retailers who have implemented screening procedures to prevent employee theft.

The decision of a lower court that allowed this lawsuit has spurred nationwide legal uncertainty and immense potential financial liability for numerous employers and business groups.  Seeking compensation for time spent in screenings, workers have also filed suits against other companies, among them- Apple Inc., CVS Caremark Corp.

The lawsuit at issue before the Supreme Court was filed in 2010 by Amazon workers who filled online orders.  Initially, the lawsuit was filed against Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., the company that provides staffing to Amazon, since many of the workers were employed by Integrity.  The plaintiffs subsequently added Amazon as a defendant.  The workers complained that at the end of their shifts they clocked out before going through the theft screenings, which could take up to 25 minutes in unpaid time.  Most of this time was spent by workers waiting in line to be searched.

Plaintiffs seek overtime, back pay and damages.  Plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Thierman said that defendants’ potential liabilities could run between $100 million and $300 million for this case.  Mr. Theirman also commented that the workers should be paid for going through the theft screening since it was an important part of their jobs.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Integrity compared Amazon situation to an employer whose business is located in an area with frequent traffic jams, stating that even though both situations may be inconvenient for the employees, but “neither is remotely the type of issue that should be subject to mandatory, government-imposed compensation.” 

In 2011, the trial judge threw out the lawsuit, but the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated this case last year stating that the security clearances were done for Integrity’s benefit and were necessary for employees’ work.   

If you have questions on this topic feel free to contact Joseph Messer at (312) 334-3440 or by e-mailing  Joe at jmesser@messerstrickler.com