Amazon is at the center of a case before the Supreme Court on Wednesday over whether companies must pay warehouse workers for time spent standing in screening lines after their shifts.

The online retailer requires warehouse workers to stand in line to guard against employee theft — or “shrinkage.” The process can force workers to stand in lengthy lines without pay at the end of their shifts.

{mosads}Two Nevada employees working for an Amazon contractor who waited in line for up to 25 minutes a day sued and won at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Amazon argues that the lines are a small inconvenience for most of its workers.

“We have a longstanding practice of not commenting on pending litigation, but data shows that employees walk through post shift security screening with little or no wait,” the company said in a statement.

Business groups including the Chamber of Commerce are backing Amazon in the dispute, as is the labor-friendly Obama administration — to the chagrin of some on the left.

“I would have expected the Solicitor General’s office to be on the side of the employees,” Robert Reich, who served as Labor secretary under former President Clinton, told Reuters. He is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

The case has broad implications for Amazon and many other companies. If the court sides with workers, companies could be liable in more than a dozen class-action suits seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in back pay.

Integrity Staffing Solutions, the contract firm hired by Amazon to supply workers at the Nevada warehouses, is named as the chief petitioner on the case. But Amazon, Apple, CVS and other companies have been named in other suits around the country.

The case hinges on the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which requires companies to pay for after-work activities only if it is “integral and indispensable” to a worker’s primary job. The law does not require compensation to workers for their commute time, for example.

In its brief, the administration argues it has an interest in the case because it “requires physical-security checks in many setting,” including at most government buildings in Washington.

It said the screenings were not activities integral to the employees’ work at Amazon.

“The anti-theft screenings following the completion of the employees’ shifts were not closely intertwined with their principle activity of filling orders in the warehouse,” the government wrote, saying the lower court focused too much on whether the employer benefited.

Two of the appeals court judges in the Nevada case were appointed by Democrats, while one was appointed by a Republican.

The chief lawyer representing Integrity Staffing Solutions is Paul Clement, a former Republican solicitor general who argued against the healthcare law’s contraception mandate earlier this year.

Clement, in his petition, argues the appeals court decision departs from past precedent and that any major changes to labor law should be made through legislation, not litigation.

He complained that the ruling has spawned class-action suits that seek “to hold employers retroactively liable for back pay, overtime, and double damages for time spent in security screenings.”

Lower courts in the past have found a number of activities do not require compensation, including time spent putting on a police uniform or going through a check point at a nuclear facility or at an airport.

However, other courts have ruled that some after-work activities should be compensated, including changing and showering at a battery plant or putting on and taking off protective gear at a meat packing plant.  

Tags Amazon Robert Reich Supreme Court

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