Police Officers Owed Pay for Time Spent Putting on Uniform & Equipment? Perhaps.

A recent decision in the district of Colorado furthers the debate on whether the time that police officers have to spend putting on their uniforms and safety equipment is compensable work time. In the case of Rogers v. City and County of Denver, the district court judge denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and specifically held that time spent by patrol officers “donning and doffing” the equipment and uniform that are explicitly prescribed in the operations manual for the officers is compensable work time. The fact that the officers were not mandated to dress at the office and were permitted to get prepared at home was ultimately not viewed to be a determinative factor.

The Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 established that employers were not obligated to pay their employees for time spent traveling to and from work and for any activities that employees needed to do immediately before/after the primary duties of their job. In 1956, however, the Supreme Court in Steiner v. Mitchell held that certain activities done before or after a work shift that are an “integral and indispensable part” of the principal work activities are, in fact, compensable, with the exception of travel time. For meat and poultry employees, this has meant that the time spent changing into their protective gear and walking to the production area from the changing room is compensable time.

For police officers though, the determination on whether “donning and doffing” their uniform and protective gear is compensable has been inconsistent among the courts. Recently, the Ninth Circuit in Bamonte v. City of Mesa has ruled that putting on and taking off required uniforms and gear does not constitute compensable work for police officers when they partake in such activities at home. However, notably in that case, the officers didn’t explicitly argue that regardless of where they put on the equipment, it was done for the employer’s benefit. The Northern District of California seems to be of the opinion that so long as police officers are donning the protective equipment at work, it is compensable (Lemmon v. City of San Leandro), but if they get prepared at home it is not (Martin v. City of Richmond).

The importance of Rogers then is that the court was not persuaded by the defendant’s argument that the officers should not be compensated because some of them got prepared at home. As the court seemed to stress, the police officers were not seeking compensation for the travel time to/from work after the equipment was on, just the time actually spent putting it on and taking it off, and whether that occurs at home or in the police locker room should make no difference.

If you’re a police officer or have a similar question regarding whether time spent “donning and doffing” is compensable, then please let Pogust Braslow & Millrood evalutate your potential case. As always, all communications are confidential, so please feel free to contact us for a free consultation.