- Twenty-five employees represented by Teamsters Local 284 have filed a putative class and collective action suit against Republic Services for alleged overtime violations in Columbus, OH. At issue is a policy requiring employees to change in and out of their uniforms off the clock. The complaint alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Ohio Prompt Pay Act, state minimum wage law and state recordkeeping law.
- According to the complaint, this policy started May 17, 2017. "For decades, the employees at this facility have gotten in uniform and out of uniform on the clock. That's always been the practice," Brian Basham, vice president of Local 284, told Waste Dive, adding he's heard of similar situations at other Republic locations. "We believe that this problem may exist in more places than just Columbus."
- In response to questions about whether Republic has a similar policy company-wide, or had prevailed in similar cases before, a company spokesperson emailed the following statement. "Republic complies with federal and state wage laws and believes this lawsuit to be without merit. Because the matter is in litigation, we cannot comment further."
The discussion over this practice, known as "donning" and "doffing," has been going on for years in many industries. Tyson Foods paid out $5.8 million to 3,900 workers over a similar issue last year after the case went to the Supreme Court. Gerber Foods paid $3 million in 2016 in a state case, Walt Disney World has encountered multiple cases and examples exist of many others.
Because the FLSA excludes "changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday" from compensable time, the definition of "clothes" has become a key factor. The U.S. Department of Labor issued guidance in 2010 about how safety equipment factored into this and whether changing clothes could be considered a principal activity depending on the workplace. Yet another wrinkle, as decided by the Supreme Court in Sandifer v. U.S. Steel four years ago, is that donning and doffing can be excluded from compensable time in collective bargaining agreements.
Local 284 contends that wasn't the case for the 108 bargaining unit employees it represents at Republic's Columbus location. While neither the complaint, nor Basham, speculated on precisely how much lost time this could have amounted to, a press release stated it equaled "thousands of dollars." Figuring out how long donning or doffing for personal protective equipment takes has been the subject of academic study and could require observation at this facility if the case proceeds.