Welcome

Amazon Loses Security-Check Pay Suit at Pennsylvania High Court

July 21, 2021, 4:00 PM

Amazon.com Inc. and other employers in Pennsylvania must pay workers for time spent waiting for and going through mandatory security screenings after their shifts, the commonwealth’s top court ruled Wednesday.

Amazon requires the workers to remain in the warehouse until they complete the security checks, so this time qualifies as hours worked under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, the court said in a 5-2 decision.

The PMWA explicitly states that “hours worked” includes “any time when an employee is required by the employer to be on the premises of the employer,” the court said. Workers don’t have to be actively engaged in duties or tasks directly related to their jobs for their time to constitute hours worked.

The decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resolves an unsettled area of law and an issue of first impression in the state.

Workers at Amazon’s fulfillment and logistics centers appealed a Kentucky federal court’s dismissal of their class action seeking unpaid wages for security-check time under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Pennsylvania law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard the appeal and certified the question to the state high court in November 2020.

The Commonwealth’s high court said it wasn’t obligated to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk. The Supreme Court held in Busk that security checks aren’t compensable under the FLSA’s Portal-to-Portal Act, which exempts employers from liability from claims concerning activities performed before and after a shift.

The PMWA doesn’t incorporate the FLSA or the Portal-to-Portal Act, the court said. The PMWA intentionally provides workers with greater wage protections than the FLSA, reflecting the commonwealth’s “strong public policy” objective of protecting workers’ rights to adequate compensation for all hours worked.

The FLSA allows states “to enact more beneficial wage and hour laws” and serves as a floor, not a ceiling, for wage protections, the court noted. Further, the Commonwealth legislature never statutorily adopted the Portal-to-Portal Act, so interpreting the PMWA as silently incorporating the exemption would be inconsistent with the law’s public policy goals.

The court also flatly rejected Amazon’s contention that the security-screening time isn’t compensable because it’s so brief and inconsequential.

There is no “de minimis” exception to the PMWA, the court said. The law clearly requires that workers receive compensation for all hours worked, which evidences “the legislature’s intent that any portion of the hours worked by an employee does not constitute a mere trifle.”

Justice Debra Todd delivered the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Max Baer and Justices Christine Donohue, Kevin M. Dougherty, and David N. Wecht.

Justices Thomas G. Saylor and Sallie Updyke Mundy dissented, arguing the court shouldn’t have taken up the issues from the Sixth Circuit because there are factual disputes over whether the workers could avoid the screenings and how much time they spent undergoing them.

Winebrake & Santillo LLC represents the workers. Littler Mendelson PC and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP represent Amazon.

The case is In re Amazon.com Inc. Fulfillment Ctr. FLSA Litig., 2021 BL 273346, Pa., No. 43 EAP 2019, 7/21/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Dailey at kdailey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

To read more articles log in. To learn more about a subscription click here.