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Should workers be paid for time spent putting on safety gear?

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently mulling over a very important employment law decision that could affect the paychecks of many people in Texas. The court has been asked to decide whether workers who wear certain types of protextive gear on the job should be paid for the time spent changing in and out of such gear.

Current and former employees of the United States Steel Corp plant raised the issue when they filed a lawsuit seeking pay for time spent changing into flame-retardant clothing at work. The court's decision could affect those who work in meat packing, poultry processing and many other industries.

Under current law, all unionized workers must be paid for the time they spend changing in and out of necessary protective gear, whether or not their employment contracts address the issue. They do not have to be paid for simply changing in and out of clothes, unless an employment or union contract is entered into that states otherwise.

In this particular case, the U.S. Steel workers are arguing that the flame-retardant jackets, pants and other gear they don on the job are protective equipment, and as such they should be paid for time spent changing. U.S. Steel argues that the wearable items are clothing.

The labor law itself does not provide much of an explanation as to the legal distinctions between "clothing" and "protective gear." So, the Supreme Court will need to interpret that and its interpretation will likely become the law of the land.

The court is expected to issue its decision in June 2014. In the meantime, workers in Texas who have questions about whether their employers are paying them properly may benefit from seeking legal counsel.

 

Source: Reuters, "Supreme Court weighs fight over changing clothes at work," Nov. 4, 2013

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