Hormel Foods Corp. must compensate its workers for time spent changing into and out of required clothing and equipment, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The decision upholds a lower court ruling that compels the company to pay back wages to hundreds of employees.
Attorneys for Hormel argued the company should not be forced to compensate the workers for time spent dressing or undressing since the employees could physically complete their jobs without wearing them, according to the Associated Press. The court, disagreed with this argument finding, by a vote of 4-2, the required garments and equipment are “integral and indispensable” to job function.
“Hormel's plant operation required proper sanitation standards and protective equipment to meet the federal regulations,” the decision states. “Cleanliness and food safety are ‘intrinsic elements’ of preparing and canning food at the Hormel canning facility. The clothing and equipment is integral and indispensable to the performance to the employees' job function (principal work activity) of preparing canned food.”
Essentially, since Hormel requires employees to wear safety gear in order to maintain compliance with company and federal food safety standards, employees must be paid for this time. Employees are estimated to spend approximately 5.7 minutes a day putting on and taking off uniforms, which equals about 24 hours a year.
This week’s decision upholds a 2014 ruling that awarded 330 workers a total of $195,000 in back wages.