FLSA does not Preempt Wisconsin State Law Claims in Kraft Foods Donning and Doffing Litigation

Putting on and taking off safety gear, better known as donning and doffing, can take a significant amount of time and workers are often not compensated for these activities even though they are required by their employer. Donning and doffing lawsuits are filed on behalf of many types of employees including factory, slaughterhouse and manufacturing workers.

Donning and doffing lawsuits are often filed in federal court under the Fair Labor Standards Act, better known as the FLSA. State law claims can also be filed on behalf of workers who are not compensated to don and doff safety gear and equipment, sometimes with laws more favorable to workers than their federal counterparts.

A lawsuit filed in Wisconsin recently held that state law claims would survive without bringing an FLSA claim:

A Wisconsin statute requires that time spent donning and doffing safety gear is to be compensated at the minimum wage or higher; this time is to be counted towards the 40-hour workweek before the overtime rate applies. Under Section 218(a) of the FLSA, states are free to set higher hourly wages, or shorter periods, before overtime pay comes due. Thus, if Wisconsin had provided for a minimum hourly wage exceeding the rate in the bargaining agreement, then state law would trump the CBA. The appeals court rejected Kraft's assertion that Wisconsin was meddling with collective bargaining. Nothing in the Wisconsin statutes gave a state court or state official any role in interpreting or enforcing the CBA. What Wisconsin requires is that the CBA be ignored to the extent that it sets lower wages or hours than state law specifies. Thus, the district court did not err in concluding that the employees were entitled to be paid for all working time required under Wisconsin law. (Spoerle v Kraft Foods Global, Inc, 7thCir, 160 LC ¶35,792.)

FLSA did not preempt state law in Kraft donning, doffing case, CCH Aspen Publishers Technical Answers Group, September 9, 2010