PA Supreme Court Rules Employers Must Pay Wages for Time Employees Spend in Security Screenings

August 5, 2021

PA Supreme Court Rules Employers Must Pay Wages for Time Employees Spend in Security Screenings

A recent case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court led to a 5-2 ruling holding that employers are required under Pennsylvania wage laws to compensate employees for time spent in mandatory security screenings.

Amazon Workers Filed Suit to Recover Wages for Time Stuck in Security Screenings

In 2013, Amazon employees Neil Heimbach and Karen Salasky filed suit in state court in Philadelphia. At the Amazon warehouse where they worked, employees were required to undergo mandatory security screenings upon leaving the facility at the end of their shift to make sure that workers were not stealing goods from the warehouse. The security screening involved walking through metal detectors and submitting to bag searches. Heimbach and Salasky alleged that workers at their facility spent an average of 21 minutes per week waiting in line and going through the security screening process. 

However, their case was later consolidated with other similar federal lawsuits against Amazon. The case was later dismissed by a federal judge in Kentucky after the U.S. Supreme Court, in an unrelated case, ruled that time spent in security screenings was not compensable under federal wage and hour laws. 

However, Heimbach and Salasky sought to continue their case under Pennsylvania state wage and hour laws. The federal court then certified questions of law for resolution by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling Obligates Employers to Pay Wages for Mandatory Security Screenings

In a late July 2021 ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that time spent waiting for and undergoing a security screening at the workplace mandated by an employer constituted compensable time under state wage laws. The PA Supreme Court ruled that, unlike federal wage laws, state law did not recognize a “de minimis” exception for compensable time — in other words, no amount of time is too short not to be compensable by an employer. Specifically, the majority opinion held that Pennsylvania’s wage laws “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.” A dissenting opinion argued that the court’s decision could potentially open the door to employees filing unpaid wage lawsuits for a wide variety of mandatory collateral activities at the workplace, such as swiping security cards or traveling through hallways. 

Potential Legal Consequences of PA Supreme Court Decision

Legal experts and watchers believe that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision may serve as a wake-up call for employers. Some experts noted that, in years past, employers could operate under the presumption that so long as they were complying with federal wage laws, they were also complying with state laws. However, the PA Supreme Court decision highlights that some states have chosen to depart from the federal law in certain important ways. As a result, employers will need to ensure that their compensation policies comply with the express letter of federal wage law and the wage laws of the state or states where the employer operates.

Other experts note that the PA Supreme Court decision may affect some of the new mandatory policies of employers put in place because of COVID, such as requiring employees to undergo temperature checks or rapid COVID tests upon arriving at the workplace.

Contact a Pittsburgh Employment Law and Overtime Lawyer to Discuss Your Pennsylvania Wage and Hour Case

Although Pennsylvania and federal labor laws are supposed to provide you with protection for your rights at work, it is not always easy to get the compensation, rights, and other benefits you deserve. That is why you should speak with a knowledgeable labor lawyer about your situation and get guidance throughout the claims process. The experienced labor attorneys at Goodrich & Geist, P.C. represent clients in Pittsburgh and the surrounding Western PA counties. Call (412) 766-1455 or fill out our online contact form today to schedule a consultation about your wage and hour violation case. Our main office is located at 3634 California Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.