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Supreme Court to hear overtime cheating case

Workers at one of the nation's largest steel companies say that their employer is cheating them out of up to five hours of overtime each week. The workers say that the time it takes to put on the appropriate safety gear and travel from the locker rooms to the worksite on the company's broad campus should be considered work and should be paid. The steel company has heard complaints like this before and settled a similar case with workers from another location, but says in this situation that the workers are not entitled to be paid for putting on their gear.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay employees once they begin a "principal activity" of the job. The question will be whether putting on and taking off the protective gear, as well as riding from the locker rooms to the job site, count as a principal activity.

This issue may seem simple to Pennsylvania readers who can understand why the workers are seeking compensation for the extra time it takes to prepare for work. Putting on specialized protective clothing and riding a bus across a 4,000 acre campus certainly goes beyond a normal commute and clock-in routine, and based on the worker's claims, seems to take up a significant amount of time during the week.

Courts that have reviewed this issue in similar cases and the lower courts in this case have been split on the reach of principal activities. The ongoing disagreement is one reason why the Supreme Court will hear the case and make a final ruling that the other courts will be able to follow.

What do you think - is this overtime work? Or should the workers only be paid once they arrive at the site?

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Workzone: Top court to hear U.S. Steel case appeal," Len Boselovic, March 3, 2013.

Information about wage and hour disputes and wage theft can be found on our Pennsylvania employment law site.

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