Safety gear is a necessity, not a luxury for many industrial workers. When individuals are tasked with working in dangerous areas, amongst toxic chemicals, near fire, while carrying heavy objects and under other hazardous circumstances, being outfitted with the right protective equipment can mean the difference between life and death.
Some protective equipment can take a significant amount of time to don properly. For some workers, it can take upwards of 15 minutes to put gear on and another 15 minutes or more to take it off at the end of their shifts. If they must change before and after a meal break, an additional chunk of time is necessarily spent changing. However, preventing productive workers from becoming injured workers is worth the time it takes to change into necessary protective gear, right?
Even though workers require this gear in order to work safely and adhere to federal safety regulations, a number of employers fail to pay their workers during changing time. This seems absurd, given that changing into and out of protective gear is specifically part of what industrial workers are tasked with doing during a given shift by law.
Due to this refusal to compensate workers for their changing time, a number of steel workers filed a claim insisting that they have a right to be paid for this time. The United States Supreme Court has heard their arguments and will soon make a decision about this issue that could affect countless industrial workers nationwide. Hopefully the court will err on the side of safety and the integrity with which safety regulations are crafted rather than penalizing workers for needing time to don and doff legally mandated protective gear.
Source: Reuters, “Supreme Court weighs fight over changing clothes at work,” Nov. 4, 2013