Third Circuit Weighs in on “Donning and Doffing” Issue

By: Raplh R. Smith, 3rd, Esq.

In Rosano v. Township of Teaneck, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently ruled on the question of whether police officers from the Township of Teaneck, N.J. were entitled to receive compensation in the form of overtime payments for time spent attending daily roll calls and changing into and out of their uniforms each day.  The police officers suing the Township claimed that such time was compensable work time under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The officers argued that they were entitled to be compensated for the 10 minutes before and after the start of their tours of duty that they spent reporting for daily roll calls, known as “muster time”, and the time spent “donning and doffing” uniforms and equipment. The Federal District Court had previously ruled that this time was not compensable and subsequently dismissed their case.

In its appeal decision, the Third Circuit upheld the District Court’s ruling because, in its view, the “donning and doffing” of uniforms was not a work-related activity covered under the Officer’s Union Contract, and also found that the time for which the officers believed that they should be compensated was not sufficiently documented to justify any award of additional compensation.  The Court also found that the “muster time” likewise was not compensable because, in the Court’s view, the time was included as a component of the officers’ base salaries in the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated by the officers’ union. 

Moreover, in holding that the “donning and doffing” of the uniforms was not compensable time, the Court likewise focused on a particular exception under the FLSA that relieves employers of responsibility for compensating employees for activities which are preliminary or post-liminary to the principal activity or activities of a given job.  Under this exception, preliminary and post-liminary activities are compensable under the FLSA only where those activities are an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities for which the covered workmen are employed, and when they are not otherwise specifically excluded from compensability under the FLSA.  Because there was testimony in the case indicating that the “donning and doffing” of uniforms was done not for the benefit of the employer but for the convenience of the employees, the Court determined that there was no basis for requiring payment for such “donning and doffing” time under this FLSA exception.

This case highlights one of the many nuances that is contained in Federal and State Wage & Hour Laws which can either benefit (or penalize) an employer.  As happened in this case, having awareness of the exception actually benefited the employer in defending against claims for additional compensation, here overtime pay, for work allegedly performed. Hence, in constructing any type of compensation program for employees, employers are wise to be knowledgeable of the various exemptions that might exist under the FLSA to the “compensable time” rules that could help eliminate the need for additional compensation to employees.  Since such exemptions are sometimes difficult to implement in practice, advice from counsel may be useful in taking advantage of such legal pay exemptions.