Provided by: Judge Ruth B. Kraft
Recently, I wrote about “donning and doffing” rules and whether employees must be paid for the time involved. Another wage theft issue involving a major U.S. corporation has hit the news as well as the court system and I anticipate that it will have serious repercussions.
A class action lawsuit has been filed against Amazon.com on behalf of a warehouseman and others similarly situated. He contends that all employees at a Pennsylvania fulfillment center are required to wait in line to pass through metal detectors and have their belongings searched upon leaving for lunch and at the end of the shift. This is a 10 to 20 minute process in each such instance; assuming an average of 15 minutes each, or 30 minutes per workday, that would account for 2.5 hours per week of unpaid wages. Pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, damages would be liquidated at twice that amount. Given the number of workers at Amazon’s warehouses, this will add up to big dollars, not to mention enormous fees for the class’s legal counsel.
Assuredly, theft of goods is a serious concern in Amazon’s facilities---as it is in your businesses, albeit on a smaller scale. When employee turnover in low paid positions is high, so the potential for theft of goods escalates. Nevertheless, I think that a court will be reluctant to accept Amazon’s contention that this is rightfully time off the clock.
On a related note, investigative reporters in Pennsylvania published a series in 2011 reporting the presence of multiple ambulances outside the warehouse during a heat wave. Amazingly, the facility was unairconditioned. Subsequently, Amazon installed air conditioning to coincide with its move into the grocery market. Is it legal for a company to require employees to work in excessive heat? Surprisingly, many local ordinances do not contain minimum and maximum workplace temperatures. Let’s not give the municipalities any bright ideas, either. Employers have enough on their plates right now with audits, endless modifications to employee handbooks and increasing expectations as to communication with workers in their native languages, among so many other things!
It is certainly lawful to inspect employee’s belongings for theft, so long as you are consistent in doing so and do not discriminate in violation of Title VII. However, if you do so, there should be an explicit written policy in place as to the extent of those inspections and, because they are for the employer’s benefit, they honestly should not be performed when a worker is off the clock.
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