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When should employees be paid for putting on safety gear?

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But in an Aug. 16 decision, the Appeals Court for the Third Circuit rejected that decision.

“If you’re a worker, or you’re a plaintiff’s lawyer, and you read this case, you’re very gung-ho about it, because it says that this is the sort of case that can stick in the court,” Gerald L. Maatman, Duane Morris’ class-action chair, told HRD. “This is a very pro-plaintiff ruling – it makes it harder if you’re an employer to comply with the law.”

Law alone can’t decide if safety gear is ‘indispensable’ or ‘intrinsic’

The decision is significant because it means lawsuits against employers around payment for safety gear donning and doffing, and related activities, will be decided case-by-case and based on whether they are deemed to be “intrinsic” or “integral” to primary work, he said. The Precision oil rig workers are required by workplace safety rules to wear protective gear including flame-retardant coveralls and steel-toed shoes, and to walk to and from changing stations to safety meeting locations. If their case makes it to trial, a jury will decide if those activities should be compensated.

“What I thought was telling about the case is that the Third Circuit reversed a very substantial ruling, a ruling involving a case where 1,000 people were involved,” said Maatman, who is based in Chicago. “This ruling suggests that it depends on the job, depends on the circumstances. So, if compliance with the law is tough, this ruling makes it even tougher.”

In a similar case in 2022, a judge decided workers should not be paid by Amazon for walking through metal detectors before and after work, as that activity was deemed preliminary and postliminary by the judge.

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