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.
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.