I have to start this blog with the comment that the opportunity to write about “Donning and Doffing” was just too tempting to pass up.  It’s also relevant in light of two recent and confusingly similar decisions.

First off, for those of you who might not be familiar with these terms, in industry, donning and doffing refers to employees putting on or removing their clothes at work.    As fun as this may sound, it usually involves wearing protective safety clothing.  Some jobs require the use of a significant amount of protective clothing and the time spent changing into or out of these clothes can really add up.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court (Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., No 12-417) ruled that U.S. Steel did not have to pay its employees for the time they spend changing into and out of their safety equipment each day. 

In March, a jury trial at the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Duran v. Sara Lee Corp., case number 1:11-cv-00313)ruled that the former Sara Lee Corp. was required to compensate employees for back pay for the time they spent donning and doffing their protective clothing.

So how can two decisions be so different?  The answer has to do with unionization.  U.S. Steel Corp. has a union contract dating back to 1947 which specifically states that the time spent donning and doffing will be unpaid.  It was a negotiated position with a union and falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act which provides an opportunity to negotiate this time in, or out, of contracts.

What does this mean for most of us?  The majority of employers should be paying their employees for time spent donning and doffing protective attire if it is time consuming and wearing it is a requirement for the job.  The only exception would be those unionized employers who have specific contract language stating that the time is not compensated.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing some spring weather and the ability to doff a few layers myself.

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