A gamble made by Tyson several years ago didn’t pay off, and now the company is paying $32 million to compensate employees for the time they spend donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE), according to a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ga.
Workers sued the company, stating they were deprived of compensation for the time they spent putting on and taking off PPE, time they considered part of their job. Tyson agreed to make payments averaging $1,000 per worker to 17,000 current and former U.S. employees.
Tyson settled a similar dispute last year with the Labor Department by agreeing to change its compensation policy.
In 2002, the Department of Labor reached an agreement with Perdue Farms Inc., in which the company agreed to change current and future pay practices at all of its U.S. facilities to compensate workers for the time they must spend donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Under the Consent Judgment, Perdue Farms agreed to retroactively pay its processing employees on the production line an additional eight minutes each workday for time spent putting on and taking off certain clothing and equipment, as well as developing an initiative to record and pay employees for such activities going forward. The agreement was estimated at that time to be worth approximately $10 million for Perdue’s current and past employees.
At the same time the Perdue agreement was reached, the DOL filed a similar suit in Alabama against Tyson Foods Inc., alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama by the Labor Department Solicitor's Office on behalf of workers in Tyson's Blountsville, Ala. poultry processing facility.
In addition to seeking back wages and liquidated damages for current and former employees at that facility, the complaint also sought an injunction restraining Tyson from future violations of the FLSA at all its domestic poultry processing facilities.
At the time, Tyson, however, vowed to continue to fight efforts to pay workers for the time spent putting on and taking off protective clothing and PPE. In a statement in 2002, the company noted: “Donning and doffing, as referred to in the lawsuit, is nothing more than putting on clothing, which in our plants typically includes a hairnet, earplugs and a white lab coat. To put this in perspective, ‘donning and doffing’ is something most of us do every day, whether we’re construction workers putting on hardhats and gloves or office workers putting on business attire.”
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers must pay their workers for the time it takes them to walk to and from the production floor after putting on and before taking off required safety equipment. The high court also ruled that workers must be compensated for the time they spend waiting to take off PPE, but the court concluded that workers are off the clock when waiting to put on the first piece of PPE at the beginning of the workday.