A new ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court has employers across the country breathing a sigh of relief, as they will not be required to modify their pay practices in favor a challenge to require employee compensation during security screenings.

In the Dec. 9 ruling, offered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the high court determined in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Jesse Busk that it did not agree with a prior U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The prior ruling interpreted the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act, that these post-shift activities for hourly workers were compensable because they are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal activities.

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Integrity Staffing Solutions provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.com warehouses in Las Vegas and Fenley, Nevada. The company requires all employees, mainly warehouse workers who retrieved inventory and packaged it for shipment, to undergo an antitheft screening before leaving the warehouse each day. Busk and another employee, Laurie Castro, challenged whether the workforce should be paid for the time spent waiting for to be screened.

“We hold that an activity is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform — and thus compensable under the FLSA — if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities,” Thomas explained in his ruling. “Because the employees’ time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing Integrity Staffing’s security screenings does not meet these criteria, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals,” he added.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor notes that the Portal-to-Portal Act is primarily concerned with classifying the start and end of the workday; it also “distinguishes between activities that are essentially part of the ingress and egress process,” she states.

“The searches were part of the process by which the employees egressed their place of work, akin to checking in and out and waiting in line to do so — activities that Congress clearly deemed to be preliminary or postlimininary,” Sotomayor explained in her opinion.

A statement from Amazon affirms that the allegations in this case were not true. “Data shows that employees typically walk through security with little or no wait, and Amazon has a global process that is designed to ensure the time employees spend waiting in security is less than 90 seconds,” according to the company’s statement.

Meanwhile, officials at the Society for Human Resource Management, one of the many industry groups that filed an amicus brief that that supported Integrity Staffing Solutions’ position and prior labor law interpretations, say this is a good decision for employers.

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“It’s good news for employers because it retains consistency,” says Nancy Hammer, senior government affairs policy counsel at SHRM Government Affairs. She notes that one of the biggest concerns of its membership, which includes more 275,000 HR practitioners, was how the 9th Circuit interpreted the statute.

“If there needs to be a change in how to treat things due to how industries are working and how the workplace is functioning, then those laws that govern the employment situation really need to be changed by Congress and not by the courts through a different interpretation,” explains Hammer.

When asked what the employer landscape would look like if the Supreme Court had maintained the 9th Circuit’s ruling, Hammer predicted that employers would see “a lot of challenges” because of the “added complications and tremendous costs” associated with measuring security screening times for each employee. But there’s also a need for employers to protect themselves, she says.

“I think we can’t discount the need for employers in certain industries to have some sort of protection against theft, which is a very real loss to the workplace,” Hammer says. “There are different ways to do it, and some employers can handle it differently. But I think in some of those retail situations, they have limited ways to really protect themselves against theft and the losses from that.”

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