In September 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its much-anticipated decision in DeAsencio v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 500 F.3d 361 (3d Cir. 2007). The decision is a victory for workers within the Third Circuit – which includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey – because the Court rejected the overly-restrictive definition of compensable work advocated by big business and its high-powered friends, such as the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Chicken Council, and the American Meat Institute, all of whom filed amicus briefs opposing the workers’ position.
The DeAsencio lawsuit was brought by a group of poultry workers who sought compensation under the FLSA for unpaid activities such as (i) gathering and donning smocks, gloves, hairnets, and other company-mandated gear at the beginning of the workday, (ii) washing themselves and certain gear at the beginning of the workday, (iii) traveling to their workstation at the beginning of the workday, and (iv) doffing and returning company-mandated gear at the end of the workday. The company asserted that such activities were not compensable because, among other reasons, the activities did not require substantial physical or mental “exertion.”
On appeal, a unanimous Third Circuit Court rejected the notion that an activity’s compensability under the FLSA turns on the degree of “exertion” required by the activity. The Court explained that a “broad definition of work” applies when determining whether “preliminary” and “postliminary” activities are compensable. What matters, the Court explained, is whether the activities are “integral and indispensable” to the worker’s principal activities. Thus, because the wearing of sanitary and protective gear is mandatory due to the nature of poultry processing, the compensable workday begins when the poultry worker picks up his first item of gear, and the worker is entitled to be paid from that moment forward. Whether this first compensable act requires substantial mental or physical “exertion” is irrelevant to the worker’s right to be paid.
If you know or represent workers who are required to perform pre-shift activities, you should be on the lookout for potential FLSA violations. The Winebrake Law Firm represents hundreds of workers in collective action lawsuits seeking compensation for time spent engaged in pre-shift activities. These lawsuits, which currently are pending in federal courts in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas, seek full compensation for an array of pre-shift activities, including: gathering and donning company mandated equipment; traveling to the workstation; programming or “logging in” to computer systems; attending pre-shift meetings; and performing pre-shift exercises.