$1 million in back wages nothing to cluck about for poultry processor

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently reached a settlement agreement in a back wage case against the country’s largest poultry processor - Texas-based Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. Under the terms of the agreement, Pilgrim’s Pride will pay more than $1 million in overtime back wages. The recovered wages affect nearly 800 former and current processing workers at the Dallas facility, where the company failed to pay its employees for all hours worked under Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) guidelines.

Of particular interest in this case was the fact that employees were not properly paid for the time spent “donning and doffing” work-related protective gear.

Donning and doffing – now that’s a term you don’t hear everyday. Basically, employers must pay employees for the time spent on preliminary and/or post-shift activities that are an “integral and indispensable part” of the employees' principal activities. Especially relevant in the food-processing industry, this includes the time it takes employees to put on and take off protective gear, like smocks, gloves and rubber boots.

Regarding the Pilgrim’s Pride case: "These low-wage workers were not paid for time donning and doffing at the beginning and end of the workday and before and after meals," said Cynthia Watson, regional administrator for the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division's Southwest Region.

The takeaway for employers, then, is that you take stock of your current pay practices to be certain you’re complying with this FLSA requirement. Just as important as providing the appropriate protective gear to your staff is paying them for the time it takes to don and doff the gear!

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