Employment-Eighth Circuit Holds That Walking Time, Between The Changing Room and The Time Clock, Is Not Compensable Time Under The FLSA

In Adair v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., No. 12-3565 (8th Cir. 2013), the plaintiffs sued their employer, ConAgra Foods, Inc. (“ConAgra”), alleging that ConAgra violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) by, among other things, failing to compensate them for time spent walking between changing stations where they don and doff their uniforms and the time clock where they punch in and out for the day. The district court denied ConAgra’s motion for summary judgment on this walking time, and granted the parties’ joint motion to certify the issue for interlocutory appeal. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) granted permission to appeal.

In analyzing the case, the Court noted that, under the FLSA and its regulations, an employee’s workday, on which compensable time is based, begins and ends with a “principal activity”. The Court further noted the plaintiffs’ contention that, even though their time spent changing clothes is not compensable-since its not a custom or practice treated as compensable time under the collective bargaining agreement (see section 203(o) of the FLSA)- it is still a “principal activity” that begins and ends the workday under the FLSA. It follows, they say, that the time walking to and from the clock is part of the workday and workweek that must be compensated.

However, the Court said the FLSA contemplates that a “principal activity” is one which the employee is employed to perform. In this case, the plaintiffs are not employed to perform their changing of clothes. Thus, changing clothes is not a principal activity which can start the workday. It follows, the Court continued, that time spent walking between the clothes-changing stations and the time clock is not part of the workday and workweek for which the employer is liable to pay compensation under the FLSA.