The Supreme Court recently clarified the meaning of “changing clothes” under Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act in Sandifer v. United States Steel. In general, non-exempt employees who spend time “donning” (putting on) and “doffing” (taking off) certain articles of clothing associated with their job must be compensated for that time. Section 203(o) provides an exception to this requirement in the context of collective bargaining—if an employer and the employees’ union agree that employees will not be paid for time spent “changing clothes,” the employer does not have to compensate for that time.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed with U.S. Steel that time spent by its employees donning and doffing protective gear was not compensable. The Justices held that the phrase “changing clothes” in Section 203(o) included donning and doffing most of the items U.S. Steel’s employees were required to wear to perform their jobs, which included flame-retardant jackets, a hardhat, protective boots, and work gloves.
The Supreme Court’s interpretation of Section 203(o) primarily affects unionized employers, who are already relying on this exception or who might consider bargaining about it in the future. Of note for non-unionized employers, the Court appears to have assumed that all time spent donning and doffing the gear at issue in this case would be compensable under the FLSA, unless the Section 203(o) exception applied. In any case, it’s never a bad idea for employers to periodically review the gear they require employees to wear, and determine if employees must be compensated for the time spent donning and doffing that gear to ensure compliance with the FLSA.