Case Briefs * Determining Hours Worked

Anderson v. Mt.Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680 (1946) (the “Walking Time” case)

Facts: Pottery plant workers sued employers for overtime pay not paid due to improper method of calculating time. The employees punched in at the time clock at one end of the plant, then walked to their individual work stations, and finally prepared for the the work day by doing various preliminary tasks ranging from putting on aprons and protective hand gear to opening windows and sharpening tools. All of these tasks had to be accomplished before the official start of the “productive work day” at 7:00am. After the lunch break, the employees repeated all these steps, and then again at the end of the day. The plant calculated working time on the basis of quarter hours after the employee punched in. Under this system, employees were not paid for the approximately 14 minute period after punching in but before the whistle blew at 7:00am or for the same time between lunch and start of productive work in the afternoon. The time adding up practice also fails to account for the period after the whistle blew at 4:00pm to end the productive workday when the employees were cleaning up but had not yet clocked out. According to the petitioners, the method resulted in approximately 56 minutes (by the time-clock records) of un-compensated time each day.

Case History: The case was dismissed for failure to demonstrate that employer violated the FLSA. Specifically, it was determined that time walking from the clock to work station, time spend in “preliminary duties” and time spent waiting prior to shift start were all non-compensable for failure to demonstrate that they could not have spent the time as they chose and failure to demonstrate with “reasonable definiteness” the amount of time taken up in such activities. The District Court agreed with the special master’s finding of fact but determined that some of the 14 minute period should be paid and set out a formula for determining the amount of time for which the workers must be paid. On appeal the 6thCircuit Court of Appeals decided that the burden of proof rested with the employees in these claims. “Mere estimates” and “conjecture [of] the extent of overtime worked” were not enough to force the employer to pay overtime. The employees appealed the decision.

Holding and Disposition: Held, by the U.S. Supreme Court that the burden of proof placed on the employee should not be so high as to pose an “impossible hurdle” for successful claims. In the face of inaccurate employer records, if the employee can produce “sufficient evidence to show the amount and extent of… [improperly compensated]…work as a matter of just and reasonable inference” the employer may be required to pay overtime. 6th Circuit dismissal reversed.

Reasoning: The “remedial nature of the statute” and the “great public policy which it embodies” require that employers not be allowed to escape claims on the basis of improper record keeping.

Significance and Key Points: When determining hours worked time clock records are not controlling. Time clock records are useful however, if they “show the time during which the employees were compelled to be on the premises or at any prescribed place of work.” The Court emphasized the control aspect of the test. Repeatedly used words/phrases such as “require,” “compel” “necessity,” “necessarily” and “complete control.” Test for “work”—was the action “physical or mental exertion (whether burdensome or not) controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily to benefit the employer and his business?” However, even when time for walking to and from the time clock and work station and/or preparing for work in preliminary duties must be paid the court “does not preclude” a judge from deciding that the time involved is too minimal to force employers to pay overtime for it.

Amour & Co. v. Wantock, 323 U.S. 126 (1944) (“Stand-by/Waiting Time” case)

Facts: Firefighters at a Chicago soap factory sued under FLSA for overtime pay. The factory required the firefighters to remain onsite after they clocked out as standby in case of emergency. They worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off. From 8:00am to 5:00pm the firefighters worked on the clock, and were also considered “on the clock” for any time actually spent working from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. Otherwise, they were not paid for the 15 hours spent on stand-by. The employer provided a “fire house” for the firefighters complete with cooking and sleeping facilities, as well as, some facilities for “amusements” or entertainment. The factory paid the firefighters a flat weekly salary regardless of amount of time actually worked.

Case History: District Court held that the employer is not required to pay overtime for usual sleeping and eating hours but all other hours on stand-by must be paid. Court of Appeals affirmed. Employers appealed. Companion case to Skidmore.

Holding and Disposition: Held, firefighters were due overtime pay because the FLSA “does not exclude” hours “contracted for and spent on duty” in a stand-by capacity from hours worked. Affirmed lower courts.

Reasoning: Employers may choose and contract for labor whose express purpose is “to do nothing, or to do nothing but wait for something to happen.” In fact, the Court concludes “refraining from other activity often is a factor of instant readiness to serve, and idleness plays a part in all employments on a stand-by capacity.”

Significance and Key Points: Time spent waiting or standing-by must be paid if it is part of the labor specified the employee/employer agreement. Furthermore, it does not matter if other amusement or entertainment activities are allowed or even provided during the stand-by time frame.

Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944) (“Stand-by/Waiting Time” case)

Facts: Firefighters brought action against employer to recover overtime under FLSA. Employees, like those in Amour (decided the same day), were required to stay on the packing plant’s premises in a fire hall when not on the clock. Firefighters served in a stand by capacity 3 or 4 nights a week after regular working hours. During the stand-by time they ate, slept and entertained themselves in the fire hall.

Case History: The trial court determined that the firefighters were not due overtime pay because the time spent “pursuing…pleasurable occupations and performing…personal chores does not constitute work.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision. The firefighters appealed. Companion case to Amour.

Holding and Disposition: Held, firefighters employed in a stand-by capacity are due overtime under the FLSA for the time spent “waiting.” Lower court reversed and case remanded for reconsideration.

Reasoning: No arbitrary rule that “waiting time” is not working time is permitted under the FLSA. Each case must be decided on its particular facts.

Significance and Key Points: The Court adopted a case-by-case test that includes reference to the decisions and interpretations of the Congressional Administrator. The Administrator’s decisions are important because “the standards of public enforcement and those for determining private rights shall be at variance only where justified by very good reasons.” In other words, the Court believes that laws should be administered the same way by the courts as they are by the government unless there are “very good reasons” to do otherwise. Although, it should be noted that the Administrator’s guidelines are not controlling.

Reich v. Southern New England Telecommunications Corporation, 121 F.3d 58 (Conn. 1997) (the “Lunch Hour” case)

Facts: Labor Secretary brought suit against a telecommunications provider on behalf of its technician employees. The Secretary sought overtime pay under the FLSA. The company requires technicians to stay at the worksite in order to secure it during meal breaks. The company does not pay the technicians for this time despite the fact that the employees are subject to disciplinary action for failing to stay on site to secure the “valuable” equipment and assure public safety in the work area.

Case History: District court found that during meal times the technicians performed duties primarily for the benefit of the company, therefore, under the FLSA the company must account for the employees’ time and pay them overtime if necessary. The company appealed.

Holding and Disposition: Held, overtime pay is due to employees who “perform duties predominantly for the benefit of …[their]…employer” during meal periods.

Reasoning: Case law interpreting government regulations (29 C.F.R.  785.19) advocates a “practical” and “flexible” approach to determining when meal periods should be counted as hours worked.

Significance and Key Points: While the court declines to give a “literal” or “broad” meaning to  785.19, it endorses the “predominant benefit” test. Under the predominant benefit test, actions that result in benefit to the employer while at the same time placing restriction on the employee during a meal period should be counted as hours worked.

* Case briefs are summaries of appellate court opinions issued on particular points of law. The case briefs were prepared for illustrative purposes only. Warning: The points of law described herein may no longer be accurate statements of the law.