Raise your hand if you know what “Donning and Doffing” is?

To those that have raised your hand, you are most likely: a) an employment lawyer; b) a Scrabble nerd; or c) not being honest with yourself.

It’s just not a phrase anyone uses in real life — like a “snood” (I’ll get to the relevance of that term down below.)

But on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important decision on the subject that will have a direct impact on when employers need to pay their employees for putting on (donning) and taking off (doffing) protective gear.

The case, Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, can be downloaded here.

History buffs will appreciate the decision for its lengthy discussion of the origins of modern day wage & hour law. But the basic gist is this: Many decades ago, wage & hour law developed a theory that “changing clothes” before and after a shift is not compensable working time.  The question remained – what about things like a hardhat? Or a special flame resistant jacket? Or safety goggles?

In other words, should an employee be able to get compensation for putting on and taking off protective gear? 

The court said it would first adopt the 1950s definition of “clothes” — namely “items that are both designed and used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of dress.”  Jackets, pants, suits, but also protective clothing like a hardhat that is, after all, still a “hat”.

What’s excluded from that definition?  Things like tools and accessories. According to the court, “Many accessories—necklaces and knapsacks, for instance—are not ‘both designed and used to cover the body.’ Nor are tools ‘commonly regarded as articles of dress.’” Our definition leaves room for distinguishing between clothes and wearable items that are not clothes, such as some equipment and devices.


Continue Reading Donning, Doffing and “Changing Clothes”: Supreme Court Says When Employees Get Paid

My colleague, Peter Murphy, penned a great article in this week’s Connecticut Law Tribune discussing the uptick in cases challenging dress codes.

His conclusion?

As these cases demonstrate, employers remain free to establish dress codes or appearance standards that are appropriate for the nature of their business — whether chinos and golf shirts at

In the retail and hospitality industries, employers sometimes are searching for that special “look” that can help define them.   Abercrombie and Fitch is certainly one of those types of businesses, and you can think to various hotels, nightclubs or retail stores for other examples.

But is it legal?

That’s the subject of an interesting column