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January 30, 1956



Warren, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Minton, Harlan

Author: Warren

[ 350 U.S. Page 248]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises an issue of coverage under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947, with respect to work performed before or after the direct or productive labor for which the worker is primarily paid.

The precise question is whether workers in a battery plant must be paid as a part of their "principal" activities for the time incident to changing clothes at the beginning of the shift and showering at the end, where they must make extensive use of dangerously caustic and toxic materials, and are compelled by circumstances, including vital considerations of health and hygiene, to change clothes and to shower in facilities which state law requires their employer to provide, or whether these activities are "preliminary" or "postliminary" within the meaning of the Portal-to-Portal Act and, therefore, not to be included in measuring the work time for which compensation is required under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Secretary of Labor, contending that these activities are so covered, brought this action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to enjoin petitioners from violating the overtime and recordkeeping requirements of Sections 7 and 11 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, in the employment of production workers, and from violating Section 15 (a) (1) of the Act by making interstate shipments of the goods produced by such workers.

The District Court gave judgment for the plaintiff, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 215 F.2d 171. Because of the importance of the interpretation of the portal-to-portal provisions in the administration of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and because of a conflict between the circuits on the subject, Mitchell v.

[ 350 U.S. Page 249]

     and in the air and on the plates which employees handled." Abnormal concentrations of lead were discovered in the bodies of some of petitioners' employees, and petitioners' insurance doctor recommended that such employees be segregated from their customary duties. The primary ways in which lead poisoning is contracted are by inhalation and ingestion; i.e., by taking in particles through the nose or mouth, an open cut or sore, or any other body cavity. The risk is "very great" and even exists outside the plant because the lead dust and lead fumes which are prevalent in the plant attach themselves to the skin, clothing and hair of the employees. Even the families of battery workers may be placed in some danger if lead particles are brought home in the workers' clothing or shoes. Sulphuric acid in the plant is also a hazard. It is irritating to the skin and can cause severe burns. When the acid contacts clothing, it causes disintegration or rapid deterioration. Moreover, the effects of sulphuric acid make the employee more susceptible than he would otherwise be to contamination by particles of lead and lead compounds.

Petitioners, like other manufacturers, try to minimize these hazards by plant ventilation, but industrial and medical experts are in agreement that ventilation alone is not sufficient to avoid the dangers of lead poisoning. Safe operation also requires the removal of clothing and showering at the end of the work period. This has become a recognized part of industrial hygiene programs in the industry, and the state law of Tennessee requires facilities for this purpose. Tenn. Code Ann. (Williams 1934), 1952 Supp., Section 5788.15. In addition, the Tennessee Workmen's Compensation Act, Tenn. Code Ann. (Williams 1934), 1952 Supp., Sections 6851-6901, which covers petitioners, makes lead poisoning a compensable occupational disease (Section 6852 (d)). In order to comply with this statute, petitioners carry insurance, under Section 6895, to protect against liability, and

[ 350 U.S. Page 251]

     the insurance carrier would not accept the insurance risk if defendants refused to have showering and clothes-changing facilities for their employees.

Accordingly, in order to make their plant as safe a place as is possible under the circumstances and thereby increase the efficiency of its operation, petitioners have equipped it with shower facilities and a locker room with separate lockers for work and street clothing. Also, they furnish without charge old but clean work clothes which the employees wear. The cost of providing their own work clothing would be prohibitive for the employees, since the acid causes such rapid deterioration that the clothes sometimes last only a few days. Employees regularly change into work clothes before the beginning of the productive work period, and shower and change back at the end of that period.*fn1

Petitioners issued no written instructions to employees on this subject, but the employees testified and the foreman declared in a signed statement that "In the afternoon the men are required by the company to take a bath because lead oxide might be absorbed into the blood stream. It protects the company and the employee both."

Petitioners do not record or pay for the time which their employees spend in these activities, which was found to amount to thirty minutes a day, ten minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the afternoon, for each employee. They do not challenge the concurrent findings of the courts below that the clothes-changing and showering activities of the employees are indispensable to the performance of their productive work and integrally ...

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