The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided the appeal of employees asking to be paid for time spent washing off at the end of a shift, which would sometimes cause overtime. The Seventh Circuit is the federal appellate court covering cases arising in Wisconsin and other states in the Midwest. In Musch v. Domtar Industries, Inc., 587 F.3d 857 (7th Cir. 2009), the court stated that under wage laws, an employer must “pay their employees a wage for all the ‘work’ they do.” In looking at both Federal and Wisconsin wage laws, the court said that “work” is defined as “physcial or mental exertion (whether burdensome or not) controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business.” In this case, the court found that time employees spent washing up at the end of a shift was not “work” under this definition. The employees worked around hazardous chemicals and showered at work after their shift. The employees apparently did not present evidence that they has known exposures to the chemicals each day, and the employer did pay for this wash time when an employee had a known exposure.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided the appeal of employees asking to be paid for time spent washing off at the end of a shift, which would sometimes cause overtime. The Seventh Circuit is the federal appellate court covering cases arising in Wisconsin and other states in the Midwest. In Musch v. Domtar Industries, Inc., 587 F.3d 857 (7th Cir. 2009), the court affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the employees’ claim to pay for the time spent washing at the end of a shift, even though these employees worked in an environment where they may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, though the plaintiffs apparently did not present evidence that they were actually exposed on a regular basis and the employer did pay for time spent washing after a known exposure. The rationale behind the opinion is that washing at the end of the shift, where employees do not have a known exposure to hazardous chemicals, is for the convenience of the employee and not the employer. Since the wash time is not a principal activity of the employees’ work or related to a principal activity, it is not “work” and therefore the employer need not pay the employees for their time spent washing up.
UPS Supply Chain Solutions and its delivery drivers that were classified as independent contractors are close to entering a nationwide class action settlement. UPS classified the drivers as independent contractors, which means the drivers were not paid for overtime, 1.5 times the regular rate of pay for every hour over 40 in a week, and did not receive employment benefits like health insurance. UPS says that it is changing the way it uses independent contractors because of this lawsuit. This lawsuit shows that employers may attempt to avoid paying workers overtime and other benefits of employment by misclassifying someone as an independent contractor while still maintaining control over the worker to such an extent that the classification is unlawful and wrongly denies the worker overtime pay and benefits.
In a July 2009 report, Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy, Americas’ Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them, published by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, the Center for Economic Policy Research, The Center on Wisconsin Strategy, and the National Employment Law Project, the authors talk about how employees are suffering wage, overtime pay and other workplace violations due to the tough economic times and requirements imposed by employers. The report is based on a larger work, The Gloves-Off Economy: Labor Standards at the Bottom of America’s Labor Market. According to this report, workers are facting an increasingly unfair fight in America for legal wages. The report discusses the problems with the labor laws, how they don’t cover everyone equally, union issues, day laborors, immigrant labor, law-wage job issues, rehabilitation of offenders and jobs, and where the country may need to go with a “living wage.” The report is available at www.nelp.org.