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Amazon and other employers must pay workers for time in security screenings, Pa. Supreme Court says

Christian Hetrick, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait declined comment, citing active litigation. In court papers, Amazon contends that its security screenings were not mandatory because workers had the option of using so-called express lanes if they left bags or other items before they entered the facility.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Thomas Saylor, a Republican, said the ruling could expose employers to lawsuits for failing to pay overtime for all sorts of activities, such as swiping security cards at turnstiles, opening doors, pushing elevator buttons, and traveling hallways.

"Both since it is impractical to attempt to record time for all such collateral undertakings — and because such undertakings do not in my judgment comprise what I believe the legislature would reasonably have conceived as work — I respectfully dissent," he wrote.

The eight-year-old case will now resume in federal court, said Peter Winebrake, the lawyer for the Breinigsville workers. He said the Pennsylvania ruling is part of a trend throughout the country of courts expanding rights under state wage laws beyond what's provided under federal law.

"Ten years ago, there was just this presumption [among employers] that 'as long as we're complying with the federal law, we're going to be good,'" said Winebrake, of the Dresher-based law firm Winebrake & Santillo. "Now businesses really have to, in addition to asking whether they're complying with the federal law, they have to start looking at the state laws."

 

In Nevada, Amazon and a staffing agency, Integrity Staffing Solutions, agreed to pay $13.5 million to settle a similar security check case involving 42,000 warehouse workers. A federal judge approved the settlement last week.

The unpaid security screenings were among the issues driving an organizing effort at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, where workers rejected unionization by a wide margin. Citing the Pennsylvania ruling, Winebrake filed the new suit against Amazon last week, seeking unpaid wages for its workers across the state.

The ruling in Pennsylvania could pave the way for lawsuits against other companies that impose requirements on their workers before and after shifts. One activity that's been a source of similar claims is putting on and removing uniforms and safety equipment, said Lee, the Penn Law professor. Companies such as Apple and FedEx have been sued over unpaid security screenings, too, she added.

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