Amazon must pay its Pennsylvania warehouse workers for the time they spend waiting for and undergoing security screenings, the state Supreme Court has ruled in a lawsuit led by workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Upper Macungie, near Allentown.
The decision Wednesday is part of a nationwide complex of class-action lawsuits on behalf of the online retail giant’s workers, who must undergo checks to prevent theft after clocking out at the end of their shifts. The lawsuit by employees of Amazon and its employment agency, Integrity Staffing Solutions, asserted that Amazon was required to pay workers for that time under state minimum wage laws.
Amazon has more than 25,000 full- and part-time employees in Pennsylvania, including about 2,000 workers at a fulfillment center in the Humboldt Industrial Park in Hazle Twp.
Attorney Peter Winebrake said the decision could clear the way for a trial to determine how much Amazon workers in Pennsylvania could be owed for time spent waiting in security checkpoint lines.
“I’m delighted with the opinion and looking forward after many years pressing this case to a conclusion,” Winebrake said.
“What the state Supreme Court said is, ‘No, all time is valuable, all time is compensable. You’re not allowed to not pay people for their time because it is insignificant or de minimus,’” he said
An Amazon spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Two Pennsylvania lawsuits were filed in 2013 against Amazon in Philadelphia and Luzerne County. The lead plaintiffs include Neal Heimbach of Lower Macungie Twp. They allege that Amazon’s security practices violate the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act by requiring the workers to carry out work-related duties on their breaks and after they have clocked out for the day.
According to the suit, employees must wait in long lines after clocking out and before leaving the warehouse for a security screening to ensure that they have not concealed merchandise in their clothing.
Each employee must pass through a metal detector. If an alarm sounds, the employee must wait in a second line for a security officer to search the employee with a metal-detecting wand, the suits say.
The Pennsylvania suits were moved to federal court and consolidated with cases from other states including Pennsylvania, Arizona, California, Kentucky and Nevada in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Kentucky.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Amazon did not have to pay its workers for time spent on security screenings under the federal Portal to Portal Act, which says employers don’t have to pay for activities that happen before or after a worker begins or finishes their principal duties. Because of that decision, the district court dismissed the case and the Amazon workers appeal.
In the appeal, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether the state minimum wage law requires workers to be paid for time spend doing activities not directly related to their work and whether such time can be considered so insignificant employers do not need to pay for it.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found in its 5-2 decision Wednesday that the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act requires employers to pay workers for all time when they are required to be at the workplace and that includes the time Amazon workers are required to wait for security screening.
The state court also rejected Amazon’s argument that it should be excused from paying workers for security screening under an exception for periods of time that are too insignificant to require compensation. While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1946 case that a few seconds or minutes beyond an employee’s scheduled work hours can be disregarded under the federal fair wage law, the state Supreme Court found no indication the Pennsylvania Legislature intended such an exception in the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act.
“The PMWA plainly and unambiguously requires payment for “all hours worked,” … signifying the legislature’s intent that any portion of the hours worked by an employee does not constitute a mere trifle,” Justice Debra Todd wrote in her opinion for the majority.
Justices Sallie Updyke Mundy and Thomas Saylor filed dissenting opinions saying the court should not have heard the case.
Winebrake said the case will now return to the federal appeals court in Kentucky where he plans to ask for the Pennsylvania suits to be transferred to U.S. District Court for eastern Pennsylvania for a trial.
Because the cases were filed eight years ago, the parties will need to produce updated information on the number of Amazon employees included in the class action, Winebrake said. If the case heads to trial, the primary question will be how much time Amazon employees must be compensated for standing in security lines, he said.
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