Donning & Doffing

Not being paid for "donning and doffing" protective gear and safety equipment?


Donning and doffing refers to changing into and out of work clothes, gear, or equipment. To don means to put on work clothes, gear, or equipment. To doff means to take off work clothes, gear, or equipment. In some situations, an employer must compensate its workers for time spent applying and removing clothing or protective gear before and after a work shift.


Federal and state laws both require that employers compensate employees for all “work” performed. However, federal and state law often differ on whether donning and doffing is considered “work.” In general, state law is more likely than federal to treat time spent donning and doffing as “work.”

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Donning and doffing laws are case- and job-specific. Understand the federal and state donning and doffing laws and whether they entitle you to compensation.

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Should You Be Paid to Don & Doff?

Whether you are entitled to be paid for time spent changing clothes at work is highly dependent on your employment situation.

Consider the following questions:

  • Does your employer have a policy requiring you to change into certain clothing or protective gear at work?
  • Does your employer require that you arrive at work a certain amount of time before your shift starts so you can change into work clothes or protective gear?
  • Do you spend more than 10 total minutes per day changing into and out of clothes or protective gear?
  • Is some of the protective gear to protect the product from contamination, rather than to protect your safety?

If you answered yes to the above questions, it is more likely that your employer should be compensating for the time you spend changing into your work uniform.

Donning & Doffing Examples

Being required to change into and out of many types of clothing, gear, and equipment, including the following, may entitle you to compensation.

  • Uniforms
    • Police
    • Security Guards
    • Nurses
  • Protective Equipment or Gear
    • Personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by firefighters, including fire proximity suits and “turnout gear” (fire resistant trousers, boots, and jackets)
    • Hazmat suits worn by individuals who work around radiation
    • Protective suits, coveralls, hoods, gloves, boots, and respirators (such as a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)) for individuals who work in facilities containing dangerous chemicals
    • Neoprene apron, sleeves, and gloves for individuals who work directly with chemicals
    • Bulletproof vests for police
    • Metal mesh gloves for individuals who work with knives, saws, or other blades
    • Protective eye gear, such as goggles, safety glasses, or welder’s mask
    • Coveralls, aprons, gloves, and hairnets for individuals who work with food
    • Masks, gowns, rubber gloves, and shoe covers for hospital or other health care workers

California Donning & Doffing Law

California courts have not set up a clear test to determine whether donning and doffing time must be paid in a particular situation. In general, workers who are required to arrive early to their shifts in order to don protective gear or uniforms have a good claim to compensation under California law. California law is more favorable to employees than federal labor law on the subject of donning and doffing.

California law requires that employees be compensated for all time spent on “work.”
Whether donning and doffing is considered “work” depends on the situation, including:

  • Whether wearing the clothing, gear, or equipment is mandatory or optional
  • Whether employees are permitted to change at home or are required to change at work
  • Whether changing is a cumbersome and time-consuming process
  • Whether the clothing, gear, or equipment is necessary and integral to performing the employee’s job duties

California Cases

The following cases are illustrative.

Foster Farms

In 2011, Asusena Avalos, a production-line employee at a Foster Farms poultry “processing” facility, sued Foster Farms for allegedly failing to compensate workers for time spent donning and doffing, among other things. Poultry “processing” is the term used by the poultry industry for converting live poultry into raw food, including slaughtering and de-feathering of chickens and turkeys. Ms. Avalos sued under California state law for Foster Farm’s failure to compensate for time spent: “donning and doffing protective gear and equipment … [and] traveling to and from the production line.” Ms. Avalos filed her lawsuit in state court, but Foster Farms had the case removed to federal court. The federal court stated, “California law protects workers and provides Ms. Avalos with independent claims for unpaid wages [and] unpaid overtime” for Foster Farms’ failure to pay her for time spent donning and doffing.

Pacific Steel Casting Company

In 2011, Roberto Rodriguez filed a lawsuit against his employer, Pacific Steel Casting Company, for “not paying employees for time spent donning and doffing protective gear at the start and conclusion of their shifts.” Pacific Steel Casting Company is a steel foundry located in Berkeley, California, and Mr. Rodriguez filed his lawsuit in California state court. The state court stated, “[T]he evidence supports a finding that Defendant had a common pattern or practice” of not paying employees “for time spent donning and doffing protective gear.” The court held that even though some employees, like welders, had to put on more protective gear than others, the donning and doffing claim could still be pursued on behalf of a class of all Pacific Steel employees.

California courts have also looked to court cases in other states to help determine whether time spent donning and doffing should be considered “work,” including the following cases:

Butterball

Liliana Martinez-Hernandez and Ulda Aponte sued their employer, Butterball, under North Carolina state law for failing to “compensate them for time spent donning and doffing protective equipment and traveling to and waiting at production lines and cleaning certain protective equipment.” The court held that the case could be pursued on behalf of all North Carolina Butterball employees because all such employees were “employed on an hourly basis, who worked on a production line, and were required to wear certain protective equipment.”

Kraft Foods

Christine Curry and nine other individuals sued Kraft Foods because “[i]n performing their daily duties, [they] were required to wear certain personal protective equipment, including but not limited to safety footwear, earplugs, and hard hats. It takes some time to put on (‘don’) and take off (‘doff’) the protective equipment at the beginning and end of each shift. [Ms. Curry and the others] claim that Kraft has not counted the donning and doffing as part of their ‘Work Time,’ so as a result they never received compensation for this time. Because [they] were not compensated, they … worked for more than forty hours in a workweek but were not compensated at the increased overtime rate of one-and-a-half times the regular hourly rate as [Illinois law] requires.” A federal court in Illinois held that the case could be pursued on behalf of a class of all employees in Kraft Foods’ Illinois food processing facility.

Federal Donning & Doffing Law

Federal labor law is embodied in the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enacted in 1938. Initially, the United States Supreme Court interpreted the FLSA quite broadly to include mandatory pay for any donning and doffing. The High Court stated, “the statutory workweek includes all time during which an employee is necessarily required to be on the employer’s premises.”

This decision led to a number of “portal pay” lawsuits, where workers argued that they should be compensated for any time they spent donning and doffing and traveling to their workstations. Portal pay lawsuits essentially argued that workers are on-the-clock the second they cross the “portal” onto the employer’s premises and are off-the-clock the second they leave through the same “portal.”

However, in 1947, Congress passed the Portal-to-Portal Act to ensure that paid time did not run from a worker’s entry to exit. The Portal-to-Portal Act amends the FLSA to specify that time spent doing preliminary or “postliminary” activities is not considered work under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In interpreting what the Act meant by “preliminary” and “postliminary” activity, the Department of Labor, with its power to interpret the FLSA, created a rule that “changing clothes” and “washing up or showering” would be considered uncompensable “preliminary or postliminary activities” when performed under “normal” conditions. However, the Department of Labor acknowledged that in some situations, changing clothes or washing up might be “so directly related” to and such an “integral part” of the job, that the employer must compensate for it.

Federal Cases

United States Steel Corporation

In a 2014 case before the Supreme Court, Sandifer v. United States Steel Corporation, steel workers argued that donning and doffing protective gear was not the same as changing clothes, and should therefore be paid time under the FLSA. The steel workers argued both that protective gear was not clothes and that since changing requires swapping one thing with another, putting on protective gear over normal clothes is not considered changing.

However, the Supreme Court rejected both arguments, holding that Congress intended for the legal definition of “clothes” to include “items with some specific work-hazard-related protective function” and that “changing clothes” includes not only substituting some garments for others, but also “altering [one’s] dress.”

As a result of the United States Steel decision, protective gear is treated the same as “clothes” under the FLSA, meaning that it is not protected, except in the narrow circumstance when the donning and doffing is considered an “integral part” of doing the job.

Tyson Foods

A subsequent 2016 case, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, had more success.

The Court described the case as follows:

[The plaintiffs] are employees at [] Tyson Foods’ pork processing plant in Storm Lake, Iowa. They work in the plant’s kill, cut, and retrim departments, where hogs are slaughtered, trimmed, and prepared for shipment. Grueling and dangerous, the work requires employees to wear certain protective gear. The exact composition of the gear depends on the tasks a worker performs on a given day. Until 1998, employees at the plant were paid under a system called ‘gang-time.’ This compensated them only for time spent at their workstations, not for the time required to put on and take off their protective gear.

At the trial court level, the case went to a jury, which awarded the Tyson employees $2.9 million in wages for time spent donning and doffing.

Tyson appealed the case up to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that its employees were forced to rely on an expert witness to estimate the average time spent donning and doffing, since Tyson did not keep time records for donning and doffing. The expert had estimated that workers spent an average of 18 minutes a day donning and doffing in the cut and retrim departments and 21.25 minutes in the kill department. The Supreme Court upheld the $2.9 million jury award, finding that it was permissible for the Tyson employees to rely on estimated averages in determining how long they spent donning and doffing.

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