$1 Million Settlement in 'Donning and Doffing' Case

The settlement between DOL and Pilgrim's Pride Corp. involves overtime back pay for 798 workers at a Dallas facility and also their pay for time putting on and taking off protective gear. Whether donning and doffing are compensable work has challenged federal courts for some time.

Large employers in the U.S. poultry industry have more experience than others in being sued because they have not paid employees for time spent putting on and taking off protective garments and gear. Such "donning and doffing" cases were fairly common in the past decade. The U.S. Department of Labor on Monday announced the filing of a consent judgment in a case against Pilgrim's Pride Corp., the largest U.S. poultry processor, which will pay $1,001,438 in overtime back wages for 798 former and current processing workers at its Dallas facility and, in addition, will pay employees for their "donning and doffing" time at Pilgrim's Pride plants nationwide.

"I am committed to ensuring that all workers receive the compensation to which they are entitled under the law," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Monday. "Poultry processing is physically demanding hard work, and no one should leave at the end of his or her shift without having been paid for all time worked."

The consent agreement was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. "These low-wage workers were not paid for time donning and doffing at the beginning and end of the workday and before and after meals," said Cynthia Watson, WHD Southwest Region administrator. That region conducted the investigation that brought about the DOL lawsuit in this case.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and House Division issued an advisory memorandum to its staff in May 2006 explaining the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous 2005 decision in IBP v. Alvarez, 126 S.Ct. 514, which held that employees in meat and poultry processing plants must be paid for the time they spend walking between the place where they put on and take off protective equipment and the place where they process the meat or poultry. The decision said donning and doffing is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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