Recently, Walmart became the target of a class action lawsuit which bears importance for employers who have implemented mandatory health screenings during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 22, 2021, two plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against the retail giant in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. The plaintiffs claim that Walmart failed to properly compensate workers for the time spent undergoing required COVID-19 screenings. According to the lawsuit, since April 2020 Walmart has required workers to arrive before their shift, stand in a line to get their temperatures taken, and then answer of series of health and travel screening questions. Only after passing this screening are the workers permitted to clock-in for the day. The plaintiffs estimated that the screening process takes ten to fifteen minutes per day on average.
The plaintiffs claim that time spent participating in these mandatory screenings was integral and indispensable to their primary duties and therefore is compensable under the Arizona Wage Law and similar federal guidance. The plaintiffs further alleged that Walmart implicitly conceded the compensability of such time by adding five minutes of paid time to each employee shift to partially account for the screenings. Consequently, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for alleged unpaid wages on behalf of the thousands of workers employed by Walmart in Arizona.
While it remains to be seen how this case will resolve, the case against Walmart is indicative of a trend in cases being filed against across the country. In some situations, the federal Department of Labor recognizes a de minimus rule that would relieve employers from recording any paying small amounts of time spent on work tasks, typically five minutes or less per day. This rule may or may not apply to COVID-19 screenings depending on when they occur and how long they take. In the meantime, employers that have adopted mandatory screenings to help keep the workplace free from COVID-19 would be wise to revisit the interplay between such screenings and their timekeeping procedures.