Labor & Employment

No Pay for Donning Clothes

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Companies defending lawsuits by union workers seeking pay for the time it takes to change into protective work clothes may be rethinking their legal strategies.

That’s the conclusion of a lawyer for a poultry company that recently won a motion to dismiss such a lawsuit before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta.

Howard A. Rosenthal, a lawyer for the Equity Group Georgia Division, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the case will have “major implications” throughout the poultry and meatpacking industries.

The 11th Circuit last month dismissed a lawsuit by union workers who sought pay for the time spent “donning and doffing” protective clothing such as hair nets, smocks, gloves and hearing protection.

The plaintiffs, who processed chickens, were paid from the time the first chicken hit the production line to the time the last chicken reached it.

The court noted that federal law does not require pay for time spent changing and washing clothes if a collective bargaining agreement covers the issue, whether expressly or by custom and practice.

The plaintiffs had relied on an opinion by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said specialized protective gear was not “clothing” within the meaning of the provision.

“We acknowledge that our conclusion conflicts with the Ninth Circuit’s opinion,” the 11th Circuit said in Anderson v. Cagle’s Inc., No. 00-00166 CV-WLS-1.

The Journal-Constitution reports that another company, Hatfield Quality Meats, agreed to pay workers $1.3 million in a recent settlement of a similar case.

“I suspect many companies within the industry will begin to rethink their legal strategy, especially where employees are represented under a collective bargaining agreement,” Rosenthal said.

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