Internet giant Amazon requires warehouse workers to go through a security check at the end of their shift to prevent stealing. But workers, who are not paid as they wait in line, say they have been denied wages and that Amazon is the one doing the stealing. Now the issue is before the Supreme Court asking the controversial question: should workers be paid for non-work activities ordered by the company?

Waiting in Line for Security

Employees at Amazon’s warehouses are asked to stand in line for sometimes more than 25 minutes to be cleared by security when their shift is over. Their lawyers are arguing that this time should be paid and consitutes denied wages, as it is something Amazon requires the employee to do while on company grounds. Amazon’s claim is that the security check is not part of the employees’ main job, so it doesn’t fall under payable hours and does not constitute denied wages.

Although Amazon has warehouses in California, this case was filed by two workers in Nevada. There are 12 additional lawsuits by workers in other states for denied wages, and these are on hold until the Supreme Court makes a decision.

Is the Security Check Necessary to the Job?

During the October 8th hearing, Justice Elena Kagan made the suggestion that because the security screenings are necessary for Amazon’s inventory control, the wait time was an activity that is part of the job so workers should be paid.

The law requires employees be compensated for the time it takes preparing for their work, as we’ve seen in previous posts, because the activities are essential to the job. But Justice Alito, comparing the situation to another case in which law clerks were paid to cut grapefruit for a judge, said Amazon’s situation is different because while you might pay someone to cut your grapefruit, you “wouldn’t pay anybody just to come in and go through” a metal detector.

$100 Million in Back Wages

If the suit is found in favor of the plaintiffs and it is decided that Amazon denied wages to employees, Amazon and the company that manages its staffing could be required to pay more than $100 million to as many as 400,000 workers. Many believe that if the court rules in favor of Amazon, other companies will continue to push the boundaries of what they require from their off-the-clock workers.

Have you been denied wages for work you performed? If so, contact our employment attorneys here for a free consultation.

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