Amazon workers take case to the Supreme Court

Discussion
Oct 07, 2014

Workers at Amazon.com warehouses know the drill. After finishing their shifts, they clock out and then wait on line for a security screening that assures they aren’t taking any of the company’s inventory with them. The process can take nearly 30 minutes and workers are not compensated for the wait.

Workers who go through this process see it as part of their workday and, as such, argue they should be getting paid for the time. The third-party vendors who staff Amazon’s warehouses disagree. That is the crux of a lawsuit brought against Integrity Staffing Solutions, an Amazon staffing supplier, in 2010 under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Tomorrow, justices will listen to arguments from the opposing sides.

There is a lot riding on this case. For one, Amazon and the staffing agencies it works with could be on the line for more than $100 million if the case is lost. The ruling might also affect how employers with similar practices schedule and pay for workers’ time going ahead.

Amazon worker

A decision favoring the employers could throw open the gates for businesses to define other tasks that employees need to complete off the clock.

Amazon is not the only retailer facing legal challenges as to tasks they can expect workers to perform without pay. According to reports, similar cases have been brought against Apple, CVS, J.C. Penney, Ross Stores, TJX Cos. and others.

Are there workday tasks that employers should be able to ask hourly workers to perform without compensation? How would you deal with the security issue and worker pay if you were running a retail facility?

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14 Comments on "Amazon workers take case to the Supreme Court"

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Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

If security checks are necessitated to ensure that employees are performing their duties in a manner acceptable to their employer (i.e., w/o stealing) then that is part of their time on the job and they must be paid. If the employer feels otherwise, maybe it needs to “hire better quality workers” (stated facetiously) to alleviate it’s problem?

Clearly this is about profits before people and eventually that comes back to bite the employer, when the workers feel slighted and don’t care about their job performance.

Don Uselmann
Guest
Don Uselmann
2 years 8 months ago

My first reaction is why would you make the employee wait in line for 30 minutes—fix the process so it’s more efficient. Even with pay I would imagine the employee has shifted from a work mindset to a get home mindset and standing in line is never enjoyable. This is about respect for the employee. And that gets a more engaged workforce. And if you cannot fix the process, then at least pay them.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

With all the supply chain efficiencies Amazon has created, including same-day delivery, why on earth does it take 30 minutes to get through a security screening? If they can’t do better than that, heck yes employees should be paid for the time.

Even more fundamentally, it’s a shame you just can’t trust those thieving employees! Maybe Amazon needs a “trusted employee” classification similar to the “trusted traveler” status at airports. Honest people in one line and suspected crooks in the other. What fun it must be to work there!

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Any Supreme Court—even this one!—should see that requiring workers to stay on the job without pay is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, whether the employer is the new cool kid on the block or not.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

If the workers, once completing their days’ formal tasks, are unable to start their “non-work” activities then they aren’t really off the clock. They are still “available” for the company’s operating procedures. This can have a big ripple effect and it gets greyer in other industries. Flight attendants for example have to show up for “work,” get through TSA, etc., and I believe don’t actually start to get paid until the door is closed, well after they have started their work day.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The issue isn’t the security line. The issue is how long the employees have to wait in the security line. If it was just a quick search on the way out the door, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, when a couple of minutes becomes twenty or thirty, it is not fair. A person who gets off work should be able to walk out the door after they clock out. Fix the security line issue or pay the employee for their time.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

I wonder who dreamed up the policy concerning not paying workers who are required to be someplace or do something required by the company. This is one the company deserves to lose.

Jason Nathan
Guest
Jason Nathan
2 years 8 months ago

Amazon seems to be continuously dogged by this type of story: Whether it is zero-hour contracts in the U.K., negative PR arising from tax avoidance (variations of which occur globally) or reports of counterfeit goods in the marketplace.

As others have commented: It’s hard to see how the 30 minute process is efficient, but it is the impact on customer perception that I believe they most need to worry about. The case in point is Ryan Air—while the presentation is radically different, the business models are both predicated on price, efficiency and range.

And both businesses have suffered from years of bad PR.

As Ryan Air eventually found out, at some point people will get fed up. However, with Amazon, there is a dissonance between the brand experience and the reality and this is what may yet come to undo them, unless they proactively manage the noise around some of their practices better.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I can not add anything more than my colleagues. I am on the side of labor for this one.

But, I assure you, if the Supreme Court backs labor, the 30 minute wait will quickly disappear and an alternative security solution will be instituted that provides appropriate security and doesn’t add hours. While I don’t have that solution, I bet Amazon already does.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
2 years 8 months ago

Wow! Isn’t it disgusting the lengths that employers have to go to to keep employees from stealing from them. Employers don’t necessitate these screenings—employees force employers to institute these measures to protect the shareholders of these companies from theft. It is horrible that employees have to wait so long for the screenings to be completed. This wouldn’t be necessary if the employees didn’t go to such great lengths to steal from their employers. Maybe this problem could be handled by asking each employee to agree to a shrink clause in their employment agreement which gave the employer the ability to garnish wages of all to pay for theft losses. This might also have the effect of letting the employees police themselves, in that rewards could be offered for uncovering theft of any kind.

David Livingston
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

We all wait in lines. Going to a good restaurant, security at the airport, and then to board a plane. Many of us who are self employed must wait unpaid for our computers to warm up. Jockeys at the track must weigh in before and after a race. It’s just part of having a job.

But to me, 30 minutes to leave the workplace is excessive and would make for poor morale. What I would do is communicate to workers that part of their pay package hourly wage takes into account they might have to wait a few minutes unpaid to go through security. It would seem in Amazon’s best interest to get the workers out the door and on their way quickly. It should not have to take any longer than going through airport security.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

A reasonable amount of time for an exit security check aimed at reducing employee theft would be acceptable and would not require employee pay. However, the length of time that this process is taking seems excessive so I expect they will be required to pay the employee for the wait time. There are obviously better security processes and systems that should be put in place and I expect that this litigation will prompt Amazon to adjust its employee-theft reduction process.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Guest
Naomi K. Shapiro
2 years 8 months ago

I believe that the employees are on “company time” as long as they are doing a task related to their work at the company. And that would include a 30-minute wait demanded by the company as part of the job, before they are free to leave and begin their own time.

George Anderson
Staff

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Cheeseman sent the following in an email: “We have a longstanding practice of not commenting on pending litigation, but data shows that employees walk through post shift security screening with little or no wait.”

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