Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules that Under Pennsylvania Law, Time Employees Spend Waiting to Undergo Security Screenings and Undergoing the Security Screening is Compensable

In the case of Heimbach v. Amazon.com, Inc. (In re Amazon.com, Inc., Fulfillment Ctr. Fair Labor Stds. Act (FLSA) & Wage & Hour Litig.), 2021 Pa. LEXIS 3047 *; 2021 WL 3059773, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act 43 P.S. §§ 333.101-333.115 (“PMWA”) employers who require employees to undergo security screenings for theft must compensate the employees for their time waiting to undergo the security screening and undergoing the security screening. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took the case on Certification from the Federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The litigation arose from consolidated class action litigation brought around the nation against Amazon claiming that Amazon owed the employees wages for the time that the employees spent waiting to undergo security screening and undergoing those screenings at the Amazon facilities where they worked. The Federal District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ruled that based upon Supreme Court precedent from the case of Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, 574 U.S. 27, 135 S. Ct. 513, 190 L. Ed. 2d 410 (2014), Amazon did not have to pay the employees for the time involved in security screenings. In Busk, the United States Supreme Court ruled that under the Federal Fair Standards Labor Act as amended by the Portal to Portal Act, the time spent involved in security screenings for theft was not compensable as such time was considered preliminary or postliminary to a worker’s principal activity, with “principal activity” being considered as including “all activities which are an ‘integral and indispensable part of the principal activities'” for which they are employed. As such, under Federal law, the time spent waiting to undergo security screening and undergoing the security screening was a principal activity and not compensable. The Federal District Court determined that the same reasoning under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal to Portal Act, applied to PMWA and, therefore, under state law the time involved with security screenings was also not compensable.

The employees sought review in the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and thereafter petitioned the Court to Certify to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court whether time involved in mandatory security screenings for theft was compensable. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted certification and ruled that under the PMWA time involved in mandatory security screenings was compensable.

In making this determination, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted that Pennsylvania Courts have not followed the Federal Courts’ interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Acts in other cases involving similar provisions under both laws. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court specifically noted that Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act was passed by the legislature to protect employees under Pennsylvania’s Police Powers and ensure that workers were protected. The Court highlighted that the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act was passed to provide a national floor under which wage protections could not drop, and that State laws could offer more generous protections. Lastly, the Court turned to Pennsylvania’s Administrative Code to bolster its finding that the time spent waiting to undergo a mandatory security screening and actually undergoing the screening constitutes hours worked.

As a result, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that, unlike under Federal Statutes, Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act requires employers to compensate employees for time spent waiting to undergo a mandatory security screening for theft as well as the time spent undergoing a security screening.

The Court also addressed the question of whether such time waiting to undergo the security screening and undergoing the security screening was de minimus and therefore not compensable. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected this argument, finding that there is no such de minimus exception to the PMWA.

As a result of this case, if you have employees in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and they are required to undergo security screenings to prevent theft, then the employees must be compensated for the time that they spend waiting to undergo the security screening and undergoing the screening. This ruling is a departure from the requirements of the Federal Law, and provides Pennsylvania based employees a route to compensation not available under Federal Law.

If you have any questions about how this ruling impacts your business or how to update your policies, please contact Russ Massey at Wright & O’Donnell, 610-940-4092.