On June 29, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey held that Amazon must defend itself in a proposed class action lawsuit brought by warehouse employees. The action alleges violations of New Jersey wage and hour law. The suit seeks compensation for time spent undergoing required security screenings.
The Allegations Against Amazon
The complaint alleges that at the end of each shift, Amazon workers were required to submit to a lengthy security screening. They were also allegedly required to submit to this screening during their required 30-minute unpaid meal break if they wished to leave the premises. The complaint also states that Amazon employees were effectively unable to leave the premises to conduct personal business during their meal breaks due to the amount of time it took to go through security, the facility’s large parking lot, and its remote location.
The security measures allegedly require employees to walk through a metal detector and place their personal items on a conveyor belt for x-ray scanning. Moreover, according to the complaint, if Amazon decides that additional examination is necessary, an employee must then submit to a mandatory “secondary screening.” This secondary screening involves reporting to a separate screening area so that a security guard can search the employee.
The District Court’s Rulings
Ultimately, the District Court held that time spent in post-shift screenings would be held compensable, while the meal breaks would not.
The District Court’s judgment relied partially on New Jersey wage and hour law regulations. These regulations define “hours worked” as all the time the employee is required to be at his or her place of work on duty. The District Court also cited to precedent under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, concluding that a “place of work” is any place where an activity is performed that is controlled or required by the employer and such activity serves to primarily benefit the employer. The District Court ruled that the security screenings met that criteria because the activity is controlled by and is for Amazon’s primary benefit.
However, on the matter of meal breaks, the District Court ruled in Amazon’s favor. The District Court reasoned that unlike the mandatory post-shift security screenings, which are required to exit Amazon’s premises and which serve only to benefit Amazon, the security check during the workday is a result of the employee’s choice to take a meal break off-premises. The court reasoned that this serves primarily to benefit the employee, and not Amazon. The complaint did not allege that Amazon employees were required to exit Amazon’s premises to take meal breaks, or that the consequence of such choice primarily benefited Amazon. For these reasons, the court held that any time spent during meal breaks is not time spent at the “place of work.”
New Jersey Wage And Hour Law
New Jersey Wage and Hour Law requires that employees be paid at least one and a half times their regular rate for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Always carefully calculate whether wages have been correctly paid.
Any New Jersey employee who feels their paycheck does not accurately reflect the work they are doing has the right to question their employer’s practices without fear of retaliation. The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) provides general whistleblower protection to the employee who brings to light illegal, fraudulent, or criminal behavior of his/her employer.
If there is any adverse employment action against that employee, the employer may be liable for any damages and legal fees incurred by the employee. The employee has the responsibility to first inform the employer in writing of the complaint and give them time to correct it.
Ultimately, New Jersey employers who wish to implement pre/post shift screenings must be aware that the time spent in these screenings is counted as “hours worked.” Employers should be sure that clocking in/out of work is done in a way that ensures employees are compensated for this time.
Contact Our Employment Law Attorneys For A Free Consultation
At McOmber McOmber & Luber, we take a proactive approach to each and every legal issue our clients face, helping both employers and employees with legal areas including wage and hour, discrimination, litigation, whistleblowing, and retaliation issues. Please call our Red Bank office at 732-842-6500, our Marlton office at 856-985-9800, our Newark office at 973-878-9040, or contact us at 888-396-0736 or online for a free consultation. We represent clients throughout New Jersey.