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Ninth Circuit’s FLSA Pre Shift Activity Decision Shows Value of Integrity Staffing Standard

Last month, I mentioned that the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Integrity Staffing v. Busk has its limits.  That does not mean that the case has no utility whatsoever.  The Court’s formulation of work that is “integral and indispensable” is still a clear, employer-friendly standard when it comes to pre- and postliminary activities, even if it does not extend entirely into the realm of meal breaks.  Early last month, the Ninth CIrcuit ruled that firefighters were not entitled to compensation under the FLSA for time they spent before and after shifts moving their equipment from their regular worksite to a temporary duty station in Balestrieri v. Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

The firefighters in Balestrieri confronted an issue that many employers and employees face: assignments at different duty stations.  In this case, the firefighters would transport their personal firefighting gear from their home station to another fire station to voluntarily cover an extra shift.  The firefighters claimed that the time spent moving their equipment was compensable under the FLSA, but the district court disagreed.  The Ninth Circuit upheld this decision, finding that the work was not “integral and indispensable” to the firefighters’ principal duties.  The court analogized the firefighters’ activity to office workers who “may drive to their work locations, park, and walk to where they work, before they go on the clock,” such as a “lawyer who may put on a suit and tie that he does not wear to the mall on Saturday.”

Relying on Integrity Staffing, the appellate court found that just because an activity might be necessary (such as going trhough security checks in Integrity Staffing) does not make them “integral and indispensable” for FLSA purposes.  Applying the Supreme Court’s test for compensability, the Ninth Circuit found that moving equipment from a home fire station to a temporary duty station was not “tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform.”  Before employers rejoice, the court made it clear that the voluntariness of the shift played a part in the outcome.  The court found that “When the firefighter has put his name on the list for overtime calls, he is free to take his gear home, and if he gets a call, he can go to the visiting station for the assigned shift without even stopping by his home station. Thus, driving to the home station first [to retrieve his or her gear] is not ‘indispensable’ to the firefighters’ principal activities.”  In other words, this does not give employers free reign to require employees to report to a central duty station without compensation before going to a client or other temporary duty site for the day.

The straightforward application of the comparatively clear Integrity Staffing rule should give both employers and employees some comfort in cases, particularly with the Ninth Circuit on board. To keep employers from going too far astray with compensation for commutes, we’ll examine employee commuting and travel rules in our next series of posts this week.

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