Court: Company Must Pay Uniform Changing Times

Posted March 18, 2016 at 3:48 pm

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ruled that Hormel Foods Corp. must pay back wages to employees at its Beloit canning plant for the time they spend putting on and taking off uniforms, according to news reports.

“Cleanliness and food safety are ‘intrinsic elements’ of preparing and canning food at the Hormel canning facility,” Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote for the 4-2 majority in the ruling issued on March 1. “The clothing and equipment is integral and indispensable to the performance of the employees’ job function … of preparing canned food.”

The ruling upheld a 2014 decision from Rock County Circuit Judge Michael Fitzpatrick, who awarded 330 employees a total of $195,000 in back wages.

Hormel attorney Thomas Krukowski had argued that the Minnesota-based company didn’t have to pay workers for the time they spent getting dressed and undressed. He maintained that wearing the gear wasn’t crucial to the workers’ activities since they could accomplish their tasks without wearing it.

However, Department of Workforce Development rules mandate that an employee must be paid for all time spent in the physical and mental exertion controlled or required by the employer, the reports said. Hormel’s requirements that employees wear the protective gear brought the company into compliance with federal standards that are integral to sanitation and safety in the workplace – meaning the workers should be compensated for their time, the court ruled.

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