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What Amazon's Supreme Court Case Could Mean For Worker Pay

A case brought to the Supreme Court by Amazon warehouse employee Jesse Busk could have far-reaching implications for other workplaces.
Posted at 3:19 PM, Oct 08, 2014

You might have parts of your job you wish you got paid for but don't. But that could change thanks to a Supreme Court case.

The high court is hearing oral arguments for Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, a lawsuit filed by former Amazon warehouse employee Jesse Busk in 2010. 

Although Busk worked at an Amazon warehouse, his case is against Integrity Staffing Solutions, an Amazon contractor. Integrity requires Amazon warehouse employees to go through security screening at the end of their shifts to prevent theft. (Video via Amazon)

The problem is, the screening is unpaid. Busk wants to change that, claiming the process can take almost half an hour every day. 

JESSE BUSK VIA BLOOMBERG"I just hope that people realize when they shop at Amazon that the people who work there are not treated very well."

Integrity says the screenings are a nonessential work duty which don't need to be paid for, comparing them to the time workers spend walking to and from their work stations.

But a columnist for Bloomberg View argues because screenings are to prevent stealing, workers should be paid. She writes, "Most of the benefit accrues to the employers, almost none to the workers, who have to waste a good portion of their workday standing in line."

This is far from the first time the Supreme Court has had to make a decision on how workers are compensated at their jobs.

For example — in 2013, the court ruled that employees could not be compensated for time spent essentially changing into work clothes. (Video via DuPont)

Now here's what it all hinges on: whether the activity in question is an "integral and indispensable part of the principal work activity." In other words, whether the activity is such a big part of the job that without it, the job couldn't be done. 

Lower courts have also ruled the other way, saying workers at nuclear power plants and airport construction workers needn't be paid for going through security. 

While it seems the case could go either way, the ruling's implications will go much further than simply deciding whether workers in Amazon warehouses get paid while waiting in security lines.

Speaking to The Huffington Post, a law professor at the University of Washington says if there's a broad enough decision in favor of Integrity, it could open the door for employer-mandated unpaid work such as taking out the trash at the end of the day.

A public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley told The Washington Post giving employers that kind of ability is a slippery slope with companies being more and more likely to cut costs by requiring employees to do more without compensation. 

If the court does side with Busk, Amazon and its contractors will be required to pay back wages totaling upwards of $100 million or more.

This video includes images from Getty Images.