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Local Governments and School Districts Blog

A recent decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court has raised the question whether municipalities need to pay employees for the time they spend getting dressed for work.  In the recent decision of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1473 v. Hormel Foods Corp. (March 1, 2016), the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed a trial court decision that the company was required to pay employees for time spent putting on and off required sanitary clothing and personal equipment that was necessary to insure compliance with Federal Regulations regarding sanitary conditions for canning of food products.  The Supreme Court held that the “donning and doffing time” was an integral part of the principal activity performed by the employee and indispensable to the performance of work by the employee.  In this case, the use of sanitary clothing and equipment was not only required by company policy but was also required to comply with mandatory federal food sanitation requirements.  Because of this, it was clear that the employees were entitled to compensation for the time they spent putting on and taking off this clothing and equipment.

The decision from the Supreme Court is very narrow and is focused around company policies and the manner in which the company decided to comply with Federal Regulations.  While the decision can be distinguished, there is a concern that the principles behind this decision would apply to various activities in a local government setting such as putting on safety equipment for employees working in underground settings or putting on bullet proof vests for police officers and other security type positions.  There is no clear court decision on these situations but the groundwork exists for a potential conclusion that time spent putting on uniforms and safety equipment could be considered time worked.

There is no need, at this time, to change the methods for compensating local government employees, however, local governments should be aware of these cases and be sensitive to what policies are adopted by the governing body relating to the use of safety equipment or uniforms as part of the required work responsibilities for an employee.