Time spent in preparatory and concluding activities will constitute compensable hours worked if the activities are an integral part of a principal activity of the work, i.e., if they are closely-related activities which are indispensable to the performance of the principal activity (see 29 C.F.R. 785.24). Such activities might include oiling or cleaning of a machine used in the work, installation of blades or bits in a machine, formatting a floppy diskette or a hard drive, installing new software prior to engaging in word processing, distributing materials or arranging furniture in preparation for a meeting, distributing clothing or safety items to other employees, wiping off tables in a restaurant prior to beginning table waiting duties, removing clothes and showering after working in a hazardous environment, and so on.
In October, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important ruling regarding a frequent issue for many employers whose employees must wear specific gear for their work. The Court held that "donning and doffing gear that is 'integral and indispensable' to employees' work is a 'principal activity' under the statute," and that "the continuous workday rule mandates that the time the ... petitioners spend walking to and from the production floor after donning and before doffing, as well as the time spent waiting to doff, are not affected by the Portal-to-Portal Act, and are instead covered by the FLSA," i.e., the employer must consider such time to be part of hours worked. However, the Court also held that the FLSA does not require an employer to pay for "the time employees spend waiting to don the first piece of gear that marks the beginning of the continuous workday" as long as the employer has not directed the employees to report early to wait in such a manner, and as long as such payment is not required either by custom in the industry or by a specific agreement (IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez (PDF), 546 U.S. 21, 126 S.Ct. 514 (2005)).
In 2021, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that call center employees who spent time booting up their computers and opening software applications prior to clocking in on their computers were on duty and entitled to pay for such time, since getting the computers ready to use was an integral part of the principal activity of assisting callers using the company's files and other digital resources. The court also found that such time was not de minimis, since it could be easily tracked using the same computers that allowed the employees to record their work time. (Peterson v. Nelnet Diversified Solutions, L.L.C., 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 30273, __ F.4th __ (10th Cir. - October 8, 2021))
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