Court of Appeals Affirms $5M Verdict Against Tyson Food Employees

A federal court of appeals court affirmed a jury verdict for employees of Tyson Food meat-processing plant workers for failing to pay the employees for pre- and post-production line activities under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). A jury found in favor of the employees and awarded them over $5M. Tyson appealed and the Court of Appeals (“COA”) agreed with the jury’s verdict in favor of the workers.

In the case, the employees were current and former “gang time” employees and the COA found that Tyson paid the employees as follows:

To calculate the employees’ compensable working time, Tyson measures “gang time”–when the employees are at their working stations and the production line is moving. The employees claim Tyson failed to provide FLSA overtime compensation for donning (putting on) personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing before production and again after lunch, and for doffing (taking off) PPE and clothing before lunch and again after production. The PPE and clothing worn by individual employees vary depending on their role in the process. Tyson classifies items of PPE and clothing as either “unique” or “non-unique” to the meat-processing industry…. The employees also seek compensation for transporting the items from lockers to the production floor.

In addition to “gang time,” Tyson adds “K-code” time to each employee’s paycheck. Before 2007, Tyson paid four minutes of K-code time per day to each [employee in a department where knives were used] in order to compensate for the donning and doffing of unique items. From [February] 2007 to [June] 2010, Tyson added [several minutes] per day for pre-and post-shift walking time required of the employee…. Tyson does not record the actual time that employees perform any of these tasks.

The question of the case was whether the employees were entitled to pay for donning, doffing, and walking time and if so, how much did Tyson owe the workers? Under the FLSA, “activities performed either before or after the regular work shift, on or off the production line are compensable … if those activities are an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities ….” Here, the donning, doffing and walking times were compensable time under the FLSA and the jury found that Tyson’s “gang time” and “K-code” pay was not enough to cover the meat processing plant’s workers for putting on and taking off their protective equipment and for walking time.

Bottom-line: Workers in meat-processing are entitled to payment for time spent donning, doffing, and walking.

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