In the closely monitored high profile case of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc v. Busk, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that internet retail giant Amazon and its contracted employment agency, Integrity Staffing Solutions, are not required to pay employees for the time they spend waiting to be screened after they clock out from work. The original lawsuit stated that employees must wait up to 25 minutes every day just to pass through a security checkpoint, and that the wait is not optional.
In its decision, the Supreme Court noted that waiting in line does not pass the test of being “integral and indispensable” to their jobs, as is required by federal law. If the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the employees, the decision would have had sweeping implications for other businesses that require their employees to pass through security checkpoints before leaving work.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2010 by two employees who worked at one of Amazon’s facilities in Nevada. The employees contended that the security checkpoints were understaffed, and shifts for multiple employees ended at the same time. So, the lines to leave were often very long. They, and others, believed that because the security checkpoints were not optional they should be compensated for their time. The employees also believed that Amazon should be required to implement measures that would reduce the time spent waiting in line. A district judge did not buy the employee’s argument and dismissed the original suit.
On appeal, the lower court’s decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, where it was determined that the security checkpoints were in fact relevant to the employee’s jobs, and the searches benefitted the company. As a result of the court’s reversal, an appeal was then filed by Integrity Staffing Solutions, and it was heard by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s Response
In his response, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that Amazon “did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.” Thus, the act of waiting to be screened cannot be categorized as “integral and indispensable” to the job. In addition, Justice Thomas wrote that the argument made by employees that methods could be used to reduce waiting time should be “properly presented to the employer at the bargaining table, not to a court.”
Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor agreed with the Court’s decision. They, too, made a distinction between the processes of checking in and out of work and actually performing assigned tasks. Since the security checkpoints are not relevant to the work performed, they argued, the company isn’t responsible to pay its employees for the time they spend going through the screening process.
Echoing the sentiment of the other judges, Justice Antonin Scalia stated during the proceedings that the search “is not part of the job”. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. went even further, saying “No one’s principal activity is going through security screening. He hires them to do something else and then the employee screening is certainly not the principal.”
The case of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc v. Busk was critical because if the Supreme Court had sided with the employees, the decision would have set a nationwide precedent. The domino effect would have eventually resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being paid to employees in nearly every industry.