Butterball is the most recent company to settle claims of workers who said they were not properly compensated for “donning and doffing” protective wear. Donning and doffing refers to the time workers spend changing into and out of required protective gear for a job. Butterball workers in North Carolina filed a lawsuit alleging Butterball failed to pay workers for putting on, taking off, and cleaning protective equipment the workers were required to use in processing poultry. On November 17, 2011, Butterball reached a $4 million settlement that covers Butterball’s payment obligations, but does not include $2.2 million that the plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek for attorneys’ fees and costs.
Similarly, Farmers Pride, a chicken processor, agreed earlier this month to pay $500,000 to settle state and federal class actions in Pennsylvania alleging the company failed to pay its workers for time spent on the same activities. These settlements follow on the heels of the a federal appeals court decision in June 2011 in Perez v. Mountaire Farms (No. 09-1917) that time spent by employees donning and doffing protective gear at the beginning and end of the work day is compensable work under the FLSA.
These donning and doffing cases are not just limited to poultry processing companies but are possible in any industry where employees wear uniforms or protective gear. California police officers, for example, received vacation time in a settlement of their donning and doffing suit in late 2010. Given the high rate of donning and doffing cases, employers should be aware of the potential for copy-cat suits in other industries involving protective gear and uniforms.