Security Screenings At Work: When is This Time Compensable?

By Alyssa L. Levy

In Aguilar et al. v. Management & Training Corp., 948 F.3d 1270 (10th Cir. 2020), the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the employer of a group of prison detention officers violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201–19, by failing to pay the officers to undergo pre-shift security screenings; gather keys, handcuffs, and other equipment; walk to their post; receive a security briefing from the previous officer at the post; and then, post-shift, complete the same activities in reverse. 

In District Court, the employer had won summary judgment by arguing that the time for these activities was not compensable under the FLSA. On appeal, however, the Tenth Circuit determined the activities before, during, and after were “integral and indispensable to the officers’ principal activities” under the FLSA, because the pre- and post-shift security screenings were required to ensure the overall safety of the prison.

The Tenth Circuit differentiated the prison security screenings from non-compensable security screenings under the FLSA where security is not part of the employee’s duties. Specifically, in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 574 U.S. 27 (2014), the Supreme Court held that time spent undergoing mandatory security screenings was not compensable under the FLSA, but in that case, the screenings were to prevent theft by employees and were not “integral and indispensable” to employees’ duties.

While the Tenth Circuit followed federal law on compensable activities, other courts may use different, conflicting standards based on state laws. For example, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that security screening time is compensable under California law when the employer searched employees’ personal bags for stolen merchandise or trade secrets, because the workers were “clearly under [the employer’s] control while awaiting, and during, the exit searches.” Frlekin v. Apple Inc., 2020 WL 727813 (Cal. Feb. 13, 2020). California’s “employer control” standard is very different from the FLSA “integral and indispensable to the duties” standard, resulting in compensable time under California state law that may not be granted under the FLSA.  

When analyzing compensable time for security screening, awareness of different courts’ standards under federal and state law, and evolving case law, is crucial. Employee activity may be compensable in one court but not another.