Tyson Workers to Get Paid for Gearing Up Time

     MILWAUKEE (CN) – A Tyson Food plant must pay employees for putting on and taking off sanitary garments required for food safety, a Wisconsin appeals court ruled.
     Six hourly employees at a Tyson Food plant in Jefferson, Wis., filed a class action against their employer claiming they were not paid for time putting on and taking off sanitary equipment, and for the time spent walking to and from their work stations after donning and doffing these clothes.
     As a condition of employment, Tyson plant employees must don a hair net, a beard net (if applicable), a frock, vinyl gloves, vinyl sleeves, bump caps, safety glasses, ear plugs and special shoes. Preventing food contamination is at least a partial goal of the requirements.
     A Jefferson County judge found that Tyson was not required to pay employees for this time because the gear is not “integral” and “indispensable” to their work.
     But the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment award Thursday.
     The employees are right that, “under the plain terms of the DWD [Department of Workforce Development] code, the donning and doffing here constitute ‘preparatory and concluding’ activities that are ‘an integral part of a principal activity,’ and therefore the donning and doffing time is compensable,” according to the ruling.
     Tyson argued that the required sanitary garments are “primarily for the benefit of the employee,” and that donning and doffing has “little to do with” the employee’s primary activities, the court noted.
     But the appellate judges disagreed. “The donning and doffing of this equipment and clothing at the Tyson plant is required by Tyson in order for the employees to perform their principal activities, is closely related to those activities, and is indispensable to their performance,” Judge Brian Blanchard wrote for a three-judge panel. “The activity of donning and doffing is not for the mere convenience of the employees, and it does not in any way resemble the mechanical steps of entering and exiting the workplace.”
     Tyson insisted that many Wisconsin employees are not paid for donning and doffing, and that if the court finds employees should be paid for this time, “then virtually all preparatory and concluding activities will be.”
     But the court also rejected this line of reasoning.
     “It seems obvious that Tyson exaggerates,” Blanchard wrote. “From work place to work place, the requirements and benefits will necessarily vary and, accordingly, produce differing results. But if it turns out to be true that significant numbers of Wisconsin employees are not being compensated for donning and doffing comparable to that here, then we fail to understand why that fact supports a different interpretation. Instead, it suggests that employers in these situations may be non-compliant.”

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