As appearing in the Human Resources of Central Ohio (HRACO) monthly newsletter
Are State Law Donning and Doffing Claims Preempted by §301 of the Labor Management Relations Act?
If you’re reading this, I am glad that the title did not bore you away from reading my article. A few definitions before we dig into the analysis, so that we are all on the same page:
Labor Management Relations Act: The LMRA is an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act that limits the rights of labor unions and gives the federal government (not the National Labor Relations Board) the ability to resolve certain disputes between companies and unions.
§ 301 of the LMRA: Section 301 of the LMRA gives federal courts the ability to enforce collective bargaining agreements.
Preemption: In essence, whenever a federal law conflicts with a state law on the same topic, the federal law trumps, or preempts, the state law.
Donning and Doffing: These are legal words that mean to put on clothing or equipment needed to perform your job and to take off clothing or equipment needed to perform your job. Many lawsuits focus on whether donning and doffing time is compensable.
State Law Donning and Doffing: The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal law that governs whether donning and doffing is compensable. Many states have their own wage laws. The FLSA preempts state wage laws that contradict it.
Okay, now we’re all on the same page and we can explore whether state law donning and doffing claims are preempted by § 301 of the LMRA.
Indiana factory workers alleged they were denied pay for time spent donning and doffing protective clothing. The workers were members of a union and thus covered by a collective bargaining agreement. They sued their employer under both the Fair Labor Standards Act and Indiana’s Wage Payment Act.
The employer got the Wage Payment Act claim dismissed under the theory that it was preempted by Section 301 of the LMRA. According to the employer, the collective bargaining agreement covered when donning and doffing was compensable and thus it was central to the dispute. In fact, it would be impossible to determine whether the employer violated the Wage Payment Act without first determining whether it had breached the collective bargaining agreement.
So why do I highlight this case for you? Although donning and doffing is such a hot topic now and many class and collective law suits are filed every week by union and non-union employees and former employees, this holding is much broader than a wage payment claim. In my opinion, every state law claim – not just wage and hour claims – filed by employees who work under a collective bargaining agreement should be scrutinized to determine whether those claims are preempted by § 301 of the LMRA. Attorneys who do not regularly practice traditional labor law are usually not used to the intricacies of § 301 preemption, so a gentle reminder from human resources is prudent.
Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio labor lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Matt can be reached by email at Matt.Austin@Austin-Legal.com or by phone at 614.285.5342.