On December 9, 2014, the United States Supreme Court in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk unanimously held that time spent going through mandatory security screening at the conclusion of one’s shift is not compensable time under the Fair Labor Stands Act (“FLSA”), even if the security screening takes as long as 25 minutes. Reversing the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court clarified and reaffirmed the standard for determining when pre- and post-shift activities are compensable under the FLSA.

In Integrity Staffing, the employer provided warehouse staffing to clients such as Amazon.com. In order to prevent employee theft, the employer required its employees to undergo security screening at the end of their shift for which they were not compensated. The Supreme Court noted time spent which is preliminary or postliminary to the employees’ “principal activities” is not compensable, but if the activity is “integral and indispensable” to the principal activity, then it would be compensable. The Supreme Court found that the time spent by employees going through security was not compensable because it was not their “principal activity” for which they are employed to perform or integral and indispensable to the principal activity.

The Supreme Court chastised the Ninth Circuit for focusing on whether the activity was required and for the benefit of the employer. Such a focus, reasoned the Supreme Court, would effectively negate the exemption for “preliminary and postliminary activity” and impermissibly expand the reach of the FLSA.

Although this case did not establish a new legal standard, it proves useful in understanding when pre- and post-shift activities will be considered compensable under the FLSA. Logically, activities that constitute the principal functions of an employee’s job are compensable. In addition, any other activity that is (1) integral, meaning an intrinsic element of the principal activities, and (2) indispensable, meaning necessary for the performance of the principal activities, will also be considered compensable. To illustrate, butchers sharpening their knives before a shift would be compensable time because it is both integral and indispensable for the performance of their principal activity. An employer must compensate employees for all time spent during these integral and indispensable activities. Further, once an employee has performed one compensable task in a workday, all other work performed after that task up until the last compensable task is “all in a day’s work” and must be paid (even if the task might otherwise not require compensation).