The Restless Project: An Employer Can Force You to Stay at Work Without Pay

A new, unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision could have harmful consequences for American workers.

The Restless Project: An Employer Can Force You to Stay at Work Without Pay Photo (cc) by yomanimus

If you thought more hours with less pay is bad, what about more hours with no pay? Here’s another restlessHdr (1)reason you probably feel restless at night, a phenomenon I’m exploring in The Restless Project.

In case you had any doubt about how hostile America is to workers right now, the U.S. Supreme Court has cleared that up. Unanimously.

In a twisted ruling that only a corporation could love, the court this week ruled that Amazon (via its contractor) does not have to pay warehouse workers for the time they spend standing in line after work, waiting for a humiliating exam to see if they’ve stolen anything that day.

The Surpremes’ logic was based on the legal-heavy, common-sense-light notion that the screenings are not considered an essential part of the workers’ jobs. That sets it apart from, for example, detox showers taken by chemical plant workers after a shift.

The ruling ignores the most basic tenet of work: Workers should be paid for the time they are required to spend at work. If the time isn’t yours, it’s theirs. And you need to be paid for that. The ruling was UNANIMOUS in favor of saying it’s OK to require workers to spend time at work without pay. (Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote a concurring opinion that hints they see limitations to the ruling. Still, they concurred.)

You should be scared about this ruling. Why?

“By not requiring pay for Amazon security wait, will [the Supreme Court] spur employers to brainstorm new ways not to pay wages?” New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse tweeted.

Your boss now has permission to dream up tasks that would appear to a court to be nonessential to your job, and not pay you for them.


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