On July 21, 2021, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resolved an area of unsettled law and held that, under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (PMWA), employers must pay workers for time spent waiting for and going through mandatory security screenings. In re Amazon.com Inc. Fulfillment Ctr. FLSA Litig., No. 43 EAP 2019, 2021 Pa. LEXIS 3047 (2021).
Workers at Amazon’s Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, fulfillment and logistics center filed a collective action seeking unpaid wages for security-check time under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the PMWA. They alleged that they spent an average of four to eight minutes going through security screenings after their shifts ended.
A district court in Kentucky dismissed the lawsuit, finding that because Pennsylvania law did not expressly repudiate the federal Portal-to-Portal Act, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, 574 U.S. 27 (2014), was controlling on the issue of whether time spent undergoing employer-mandated security screenings is compensable under the PMWA. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court certified the question to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In a 5-2 decision written by Justice Debra Todd, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that, because the term “hours worked” under the PMWA includes “any time when an employee is required by the employer to be on the premises of the employer,” the security-screening time is compensable under the PMWA. According to the Court, the PMWA intentionally provides workers with greater wage protections than the FLSA, reflecting the Commonwealth’s “strong public policy” objective of protecting workers’ rights to “be adequately compensated for all” hours worked. The Court also ruled that, contrary to the FLSA, the PMWA does not include a de minimis exception, so the fact that the time spent in security screenings was only a few minutes was not a defense.
This decision is a good reminder that, when considering obligations under wage and hour laws, both the federal and state laws must be considered, as employees frequently receive the benefit of whatever law is more favorable. Moreover, Pennsylvania employers should now closely examine their compensation policies to ensure that they are paying their employees for all hours worked, including for time spent in security screenings, and regardless of how little time is involved.