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Is “donning and doffing” required to be paid for by a California employer?

Yes.

In order to perform their work effectively, many employees are required to wear special clothing, such as safety equipment, PSE, safety equipment, work gear, protective gear, hats, boots, aprons, and other equipment. Depending on the job, it can take over 10 minutes to put on and take off required clothing before and after each shift or breaks. In some cases, employers may insist that this “donning and doffing” be done on the employee’s own time.

In this article, I answer these questions and/or address the following issues regarding donning and doffing:

Am I supposed to be paid for the time it takes for me to put on and take off my work gear (safety gear, uniform, bunny suit, Tyvek coveralls, etc.)?

Uniforms

Safety Gear

Bunny Suits

Food Processing workers

What are some of the industries where donning and doffing wage violations regularly occur?

What is the California law concerning getting paid for donning and doffing / putting on and taking off equipment for my work?

What if it only takes a minute or two in order to put on and/or take off the equipment/ work gear?  Am I still supposed to be compensated for this short amount of time?

Donning and doffing law violations can lead to overtime violations

​Case study - Kitchen and serving workers - donning and doffing (putting on and taking off smocks, aprons and hairnets)

Am I supposed to be paid for the time it takes for me to put on and take off my work gear (safety gear, uniform, bunny suit, Tyvek coveralls, etc.)? 

Yes.

In legal terms, this is called "donning" (putting your safety gear, uniform, etc.) on and "doffing" (taking off your uniform, safety gear, etc.). 

California donning and doffing law refers to California law that employees must be compensated for time spent changing into and out of: uniforms, safety equipment, work gear, PSE, bunny suits, safety gear that is need in order to perform their work duties. Employers must pay for all time that employees are under their control. Even if it is only takes a minute or two to put on or take off the work gear. 

California employers can be compelled to pay workers for any pre- or post-shift activities that take place in service of the employer, even if the employee has not begun his principal work activities. Any tasks that are considered to be essential to the employee’s principal work activity should be compensable as part of an employee’s weekly pay, including:

Uniforms:

Police officers, nurses, doctors, mechanics, and other professionals who are required to wear uniforms should be paid to do so on-premises, especially if their work activities require a change of clothes mid-shift.

Safety Gear:

Some workers need to wear safety gear for the full duration of their shifts, such as food service workers or biochemical engineers. In many cases, the protective equipment needed takes several minutes to put on and take off, and doing so at home could compromise both the safety and sterility of the uniform. Any changing of clothes that cannot be done at home without posing a threat to the worker or work environment must be paid for by your employer.

Bunny Suits:

Part of the silicon wafer manufacturing process, phone manufacturing process, and/or computer manufacturing process takes place in "cleanrooms" -- environments that have few of the airborne impurities that exist in the ambient air. Cleanrooms are classified by the number of particles of contamination permitted per cubic foot. Therefore, a Class 10,000 cleanroom has more impurities than a Class 10 cleanroom.

All employees who work in cleanrooms must wear gowns to help maintain the environment. The gowns worn in the cleanrooms are referred to as "bunny suits." The process of preparing oneself to enter the cleanroom is called "gowning."

Under California law, the time is takes workers to put on bunny suits and take off bunny suits must be paid work time. Companies can not legally require you to gown while you are not getting paid. 

Under California law, you are entitled to rest breaks and meal breaks. Companies that require you to perform gowning (putting on your bunny suit or taking off your bunny suit), during part of the rest break or part of the meal break are in violation of California law. 

You are not only entitled to be compensated for this time, but it is also a violation of California law. You are entitled to an hour's pay each time this occurs. California Labor Code Section 226.7. 

Food Processing workers

Workers in the food processing industry are usually required to put on and take off safety equipment and/or personal hygiene equipment in order to work in the food processing plant.  Under California law, you must be paid for the time it takes you to put on and take off this equipment. 

Further, you are entitled to rest breaks and meal breaks. No part of your rest break or meal break can be spent putting on or taking off uniforms, protective gear, equipment, safety equipment and the like. 

What are some of the industries where donning and doffing wage violations regularly occur?

 
Kitchen workers, electric companies, gas companies, power companies, nuclear power companies, food processing workers, factory workers, semiconductors, electronics, phone manufacturing, computer manufacturing, instrument manufacturing,  industries where workers that must wear PPE - personal protective equipment, food service workers, drilling companies , oilfield workers, nurses, ER nurses, ICU nurses, food packing companies, food processing companies, construction, pharmacy technicians/ pharmacy workers, cooks, bussers, welders, mechanics, medical lab technicians, amusement park workers.  
 
There are many more job and industries that require personal protective equipment or special gear or clothing in order to perform the job. 
 

What is the California law concerning getting paid for donning and doffing / putting on and taking off equipment for my work? 

Under California law, you must be paid for all time that you are under the control of the employer. Sali v. Corona Reg'l Med. Ctr., 909 F.3d 996, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2018).  Workers that are donning and doffing - meaning, they are putting on clothes or equipment in order to perform their job - must be paid for that time. Ballaris v. Wacker Siltronic Corp., 370 F.3d 901, 903-904 (2004); Alvarez v. IBP, Inc., 339 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2003);  Negrete v. Conagra Foods, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76291, *

 

What if it only takes a minute or two in order to put on and/or take off the equipment/ work gear?  Am I still supposed to be compensated for this short amount of time?

Yes.

Under California law, employers must compensate you for any regular time that you spend before or after your shift (or during meal breaks and/or rest breaks) that you must perform.  Thus, even if it only takes a minute or two, then the company must still compensate you for this time. 

Whenever you are under the control of your employer - you must be paid for that time. Sali v. Corona Reg'l Med. Ctr., 909 F.3d 996, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2018).

Your employer must pay you for this time, even if it is a short amount of time. Troester v. Starbucks Corp., 5 Cal. 5th 829, 847 (2018). Even when they only take a minute or two to perform.

 

Happy clients with their settlement checks from a California unpaid wages case.
Clients that are happy they got their check in a California Wage Case

Donning and doffing law violations can lead to overtime violations

A full-time employee who has been docked pay for pre- and post-shift work could be entitled to a significant amount of overtime pay. 

Donning and doffing law violations can lead to meal period violations, rest break violations, paycheck stub violations and waiting time penalties (and we're talking very significant sums of money) 

In most instances, when a company violates the law relating to donning and doffing it also leads to meal period violations and rest period violations. This is because workers will usually have to spend part of their meal break time and rest break time taking off and then putting back on their uniforms, safety gear and/or protective equipment. Most workers can't be expected to rest or eat while wearing this gear. 

Under California law, you are entitled to an hour's pay every time you aren't provided a meal period and an hours pay every time you're not provided a rest break. California Labor Code Section 226.7. 

In addition, as with all wages owed to workers, there are usually paycheck stub violations based upon the failure to list all the hours worked and the wages earned on the workers pay stubs. California Labor Code Section 226. 

Finally, when all wages are not paid at time of termination, you are owed 30 days pay. California Labor Code Section 203. 

In order to see how these all really add up fast, I suggest you check out the case studies. The Case Studies illustrate how the donning and doffing law work and how the meal period violations, rest break violations, pay stub violations and waiting time penalties all add up. 

 

Case study - Kitchen and serving workers - donning and doffing (putting on and taking off smocks, aprons and hairnets)

 
In a recent case, the workers served food in a large company.  This is a large Internet company. The company provides a large cafeteria style restaurant onsite, for its workers.  The company that runs the cafeteria work for a contracting company. 
 
The lunches are served buffet style to office workers. The kitchen workers and servers have to report to a changing room before their shift.  The put on smocks, aprons and hairnets in the changing room. From their they go to clock in.  The time spent in the changing room and then walking to and then clocking in is approximately 3-4 minutes per shift. The putting on their work clothes is called “donning” under the law.
 
After their shift is over, they clock out and then go back to the changing room and take off their work clothes.  Then they put their work clothes in a laundry bin.  This also takes 3-4 minutes per shift. The taking off of their work clothes is called “doffing” under the law.
 
Since the wearing of the work clothes is a requirement for the job, then the workers should be paid for these duties. It is illegal for the company to not pay the workers for this time that the workers are under the control of the employer.
 
Using a conservative figure the kitchen and serving workers are entitled to 6 minutes of pay per day.
 
Assuming the they work 50 weeks out of the year and work 5 shifts a week, that comes out to 25 hours. At $14 and hour that is $350. This is for the donning and doffing time at the beginning and end of the shifts.
 
In addition, the company gave the employees a 30 minute meal break. If the workers wanted to leave the premises, they had to go to the locker room and change during their  30 minute meal break.  Under the Brinker California Supreme Court case, this is illegal for meal breaks. Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004, 1040 (Cal. 2012).
 
I know the Brinker case well, because I represented the workers in the Brinker case.
 
Under the Brinker case, The employer satisfies its obligation to provide meal breaks if the employer:
 
1.  Relieves its employees of all duty,
2.  Relinquishes control over their activities and
3.  Permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30 minute break, and
4.  Does not impede or discourage them from doing so.  Or provide an incentive to forego.
Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004, 1040 (Cal. 2012).
 
When employees have to take off their smocks, aprons and hairnets and go to the employee changing room in order to do so, during their 30 meal break; then they didn’t receive an uninterrupted 30 minute meal break.
 
The employees are owed an hour’s pay for each missed meal break.  California Labor Code Section 226.7.
 
The workers worked 50 weeks in the previous year. Thus, the calculation for the meal period premium pay is as follows:
 
$14 x 5 shifts a week x 50 weeks = $3,500
 
In addition, the company “gave” the employees 10 minute rest break.  If the employees wanted to leave the premises during their rest break they had to the locker room and change.   The California Supreme Court in Augustus held that employers have the same duties in providing rest breaks as they do meal breaks. Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., 2 Cal. 5th 257, 270 (2016).
 
I know the Augustus case very well also, because I wrote the winning Supreme Court brief in the Augustus case.
 
Thus, the employees failed to receive legal rest breaks also.
 
The employees are owed an hour’s pay for each missed rest break. California Labor Code Section 226.7.
 
Conservatively, we till only use one missed rest break per shift.
 
The worker worked 50 weeks in the previous year. Thus, the calculation for the rest period premium pay is as follows:
 
 $14 x 5 shifts a week x 50 weeks = $3,500
 
In addition, the workers are entitled to $4,000 in paycheck stub violations.
 
And, they are also entitled to waiting time penalties. California Labor Code Section 203.
 
In this case study we are going to use the workers “same rate”, including the meal period premiums and rest period premiums.
 
Thus, the wages at “the same rate” is as follows:
 
 $14 x 8 hours + $14 meal period premium + rest period premium = $140
 
 $140 x 30 = $4,200 waiting time penalties
 
The total wages and statutory penalties are as follows:
 
 $     350  unpaid time (putting uniform on and off)
 $  3,500  meal period premiums
 $  3,500  rest period premiums 
 $  4,000  paycheck stub violations  
 $  4,200  waiting time penalties
 $15,550 Total

 
 
Thus, the workers are looking a potential unpaid wages and statutory penalties of $15,500. Please note that these are the wages and penalties owed to the workers that worked on year.  The workers that were at the company for three years are looking at potential claims of $29,550. 

In addition, there are numerous potential PAGA penalties in addition to these wages and statutory penalties. 

 

Bill Turley was called "California's Leading Wage and Hour Class Action Lawyer"

Donning and Doffing lawyer - Bill Turley

We are not saying this to brag. We are telling you this so you will know that Bill knows what he’s talking about.  Bill Turley represented the workers in the leading California Supreme Court case on California unpaid wages law - Brinker vs. Superior Court. 

Bill wrote the winning briefs in the recent California Supreme Court cases - Augustus vs. Superior Court (the leading case on rest breaks) and Williams vs. Superior Court (the case that gives you the right to getting the names of your co-employees in a PAGA case). 

Bill is regularly asked to testify before the California State Senate and the California State Assembly on unpaid wages law.  Bill helped write the recent changes to California's unpaid wages PAGA laws.

 

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These discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, photos, endorsement and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation.

William Turley
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