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Rules Regarding Donning and Doffing Not Always Clear-Cut

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Dallas, TXOne of the more confusing aspects of labor law involves rules around donning and doffing or egress and regress. That's because there's a fine line that determines when a person should be paid for time spent putting on or taking off special work clothes or logging into and out of computer systems for work, and the line is not always clear. Employers—wanting to save money—insist employees take time before and after their shifts and during breaks to put on safety gear or log into computers. In some cases, this is time that should be compensated.

The truth is that understanding donning and doffing—putting on and taking off of clothing and other gear—is complicated. After all, unless you work in a nudist colony, you need to wear clothing to work. Should employers compensate all employees for time spent dressing? What about when employees get changed out of street clothes and into work clothes? Should that time be compensable?

Usually the answer is no. But there are times when it is rational for an employer to pay for time spent preparing for work. When, for example, employees are required to wear a lot of specialty gear to perform their work tasks. Sometimes that gear takes a long time to put on and take off, and when the employee is required to go through the process not only before and after shifts but also during all breaks, that can add up to a lot of unpaid time.

One of the things the court looks at when determining whether or not time is compensable is whether it is part of the employee's principal activities. Principal activities are those that are integral and indispensible to the employee carrying out his or her job duties. Typically, those mean the employee's regular job duties—the ones listed under duties and responsibilities.

This means, then, that if wearing the protective gear or other clothing is vital to the employee's work, then the time spent putting it on and taking it off should be paid. Or course employees and employers can also argue about whether or not the clothing is vital to the work being done.

Employees who have not been paid for donning and doffing have pushed the issue to the courts, to determine whether or not any labor laws have been violated. In some cases—such as with the recent Tyson lawsuit—the courts have sided with the employees. But that isn't always the case. Some lawsuits have resulted in the courts finding for the employers and determining employees are not entitled to pay for their time.

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