PAYING EMPLOYEES FOR COVID-19 SCREENING TIME

in In The News, Employment Law, Agriculture

In a class action lawsuit filed on February 23, 2021, against Walmart Inc. involving a putative class of nonexempt hourly employees, plaintiffs allege the corporate giant failed to compensate for overtime and all hours worked for the time employees were required to undergo the prescreening process for COVID-19.  Employees claim that prior to clocking in, they were required to spend up to 30 minutes getting temperature checks and answering questions about symptoms, all of which went uncompensated in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and California wage and hour law. 

When the pandemic hit last year, Walmart instituted a company-wide policy requiring each hourly employee to submit to a health check prior to the start of each shift.  The lawsuit claims that retail employees were required to line up 30 minutes before the start of their shifts to undergo a screening process.  This assessment was made up of temperature checks and answering questions about potential symptoms such as trouble breathing, coughing, runny nose, and chest pain as well as recent travel and exposure inquiries.  Those employees that cleared the screening would receive a dated sticker noting that they passed along with personal protective equipment.  If the initial exam did not provide clearance, the employees could then face a second exam with more detailed follow-up questions.  The complaint alleged that the process could take 10 to 15 minutes, but potentially longer depending on the length of the line.

Plaintiffs argue in their complaint that employees should be compensated for the COVID-19 screenings because of the control factor involved: “They must answer questions, submit to have their temperature taken and wear masks and gloves. … In other words, Walmart directs, commands and restrains its employees during the COVID-19 examination; prevents them from using that time effectively for their own purposes; and they remain subject to Walmart’s control during the examination.”

A Walmart statement provided: “All hourly associates have extra COVID screening time systematically added to their daily shifts and paychecks.  This is in addition to our manual process for adding extra time if there ever is a reason this additional time is not sufficient.”

The case is Haro et al v. Walmart Inc., case number 1:21-cv-00239, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.  A similar lawsuit has been filed against another retail heavyweight, Amazon.com Services, LLC.

This is an important reminder for employers to ensure every minute of an employee’s time is compensated.  Employers should contact the attorneys at McKague Rosasco LLP if they have questions regarding how to account for COVID-19 screening times on employee paychecks.

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