Holds Pay Due for Fire Duty

Holds Pay Due for Fire Duty

In a December decision, the Supreme Court held that the time during which employees are required to remain on an employer’s premises so as to be on call to fight fires constitutes employment for which they must be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

An Armour & Co. soap factory in Chicago and a Swift & Co. plant in Fort Worth, Tex. were parties in the two cases. In each instance, a number of employees sued for overtime compensation, based on requirement that they perform fire duty several nights a week in addition to their regular daytime work.

In the Armour case, the lower courts ruled that fire duty is an occupation necessary to production of goods for interstate commerce and that employees were entitled to pay for all time they were “on call,” except time spent in sleeping and eating meals. Armour appealed these findings. In the Swift case the lower courts held that time spent in the fire hall by the employees was not “hours worked” within the meaning of the Act. The employees in this case were paid 64 cents for each alarm answered. They appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the Armour case Justice Jackson, who read the unanimous decision, wrote that “we think the labor standards act does not exclude as working time periods contracted for and spent on duty in the circumstances disclosed here, merely because the nature of the duty left time hanging heavy on the employees’ hands and because the employer and employee cooperated in trying to make the confinement and idleness incident to it more tolerable.”

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