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Donning and Doffing Case Goes to Wisconsin Plaintiffs on Appeal

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Milwaukee, WIA frequent player appearing as an unpaid wages claim is the egress/regress lawsuit, where an employee or group of employees take an employer to task for the requirement to don and then remove clothing or gear specific to the job at hand, without compensation.

To that end, an Unpaid Wages lawsuit filed as a class action by a group of employees at Tyson Prepared Foods Inc. (Tyson Foods) was initially lost by the plaintiffs following summary judgment granted to the defendant by the district court. According to court papers related to the case found online here, the district court found that Tyson Foods was not obligated to compensate employees for the kind of off-the-clock work they were claiming - donning and doffing gear - because it was not, in the district court’s view, integral and indispensable to principle work activities.

However, the plaintiffs in the unpaid wages lawsuit noted their principal activity was related to the processing of foods, with the required gear helping to prevent contamination and limiting the employer’s liability in the event of employee injury.

Plaintiffs also held, through their unpaid wages attorney, that the gear was required to allow for a more efficient operation. The plaintiffs appealed.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the district court, noting that according to language contained in the Wisconsin Administration Code, “preparatory and concluding activities” that remain an integral part of a principal activity are, indeed, compensable.

To wit, the off-the-clock work associated with the donning and doffing of clothing and other related gear is compensable due to the fact that the need for the gear, as noted above, is viewed as an indispensable part of the employee’s principle activities, and was not undertaken for the comfort of the employee(s).

The case was remanded by the court for further proceedings. However, the ruling by the appellate court is important to the ideal that where there is the requirement to wear specific clothing and safety gear - regardless of whether or not it is for the primary benefit of the employee or the employer - there should be compensation. No matter the reason, if donning and doffing clothing and equipment is a requirement of the job by the employer, then the employee should have the right to expect the opportunity to undertake the egress and regress on the clock, on the employer’s time, rather than the employee’s free time.

Bottom line, if you require it, you pay for it - or get ready for an Unpaid Wages lawsuit.

The case was Jim Weissman et al, v. Tyson Prepared Foods Inc., Cir. Ct. No. 2010CV1035, Appeal No. 2012AP2196, State of Wisconsin.


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