U.S. top court weighs worker pay for security checks

Employee argue security process is part of the job and they should be paid for time spent going through it

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States Supreme Court appeared divided on Wednesday over whether companies must pay workers for time spent undergoing security checks at the end of their shifts in a case involving an Amazon.com contractor.

Employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions facilities in Nevada, where merchandise is processed and shipped, say they are forced to spend up to half an hour daily going through security screenings aimed at protecting against theft. They say they should be paid for their time and have asked for back wages and overtime pay.

During Wednesday's oral argument in the closely watched employment law case, Justice Elena Kagan indicated that the security checks are similar to the checking-out process bank tellers and cashiers have to go through at the end of their shifts. Workers would likely be paid in those scenarios, she said.

"What's the difference between that ... and going through security at Amazon?" Kagan asked. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's frequent swing vote, followed up with a similar line of questioning.

Other justices on the conservative wing sounded more sympathetic to the employer, saying the screening process was not a key part of the employees' jobs and therefore was not subject to compensation.

In April, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the screenings were an integral part of the warehousing job done for the benefit of the employer and should be compensated under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

A ruling is due by June 2015.

The case is Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc v. Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-433.

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