Third Circuit Addresses Donning, Doffing, and Muster Time

In a previous blog, I discussed the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Sandifer, et. al. v. United States Steel Corp. which addressed situations where employers and employees collectively bargain via an agreement between the company and a labor union that the time employees spend donning and doffing is not compensable. Sandifer upheld the ability of employers and employees to agree, via the collective bargaining process, whether “time spent in changing clothes . . . at the beginning or end of each workday” is compensable.

In one of the first donning and doffing cases to be decided by a federal appellate court following Sandifer, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit addressed the claims of eighty-eight current and former police officers in the Township of Teaneck, New Jersey who claimed, in part, that they were not properly paid overtime wages as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for time spent donning and doffing their uniforms and equipment each day and for muster time prior to and following their shifts. The case was Rosano, et. al. v. Township of Teaneck.

Relying heavily on Sandifer, the Third Circuit determined that the vast majority of the time in question in the case was spent changing “clothes,” as defined by the Supreme Court. Specifically, the court discussed the fact that although the twenty-seven duty items for which the police officers were responsible for wearing (a uniform hat, uniform jacket, shirts, pants, dress blouse, leather gear, shoes/boots, socks, tie, winter/summer uniform, sweaters, gloves, rainwear, bullet resistant vest, nightstick, handcuffs, nameplate, medals, awards, Shield and Department I.D. card, notebook and pen, firearm and ammunition, whistle, baton, watch, pepper spray (when issued), and a flashlight) were split almost identically between clothes and equipment, “the vast majority of the time in question is spent donning and doffing ‘clothes.’” This fact, combined with a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) provision stating that the donning and doffing time was not compensable, resulted in an identical result for the police officers in Rosano as the steel workers in Sandifer – dismissal of their claims.

The muster time claim met an identical fate albeit for a different reason. For those who are unfamiliar with the phrase muster time, it is the time spent by employees before and/or after their shifts, often performing ancillary activities to get ready for the upcoming shift or to prepare the subsequent shift for work. In the case of the Teaneck police officers, the muster time consisted of a ten minute period prior to their shift and another period of up to ten minutes following their shift during which they were required to be dressed and prepared for duty. In rejecting the officers’ argument that they were not compensated for the muster time, the court found that the CBA made it “clear that muster time was contemplated as a component of the officers’ base salaries.”

So the muster time claim failed because the officers were paid for it according to the CBA whereas the donning and doffing time claim failed because the parties agreed not to be paid for it via the CBA. Either way, the CBA was the common denominator that sealed the fate of both claims. Cases like Rosano and Sandifer continue to reinforce the important role labor unions continue to play in establishing the terms and conditions in workplaces around the country.