In Piper v. Jones Dairy Farm (2020 WI 28), the Wisconsin Supreme Court determined that employees’ donning and doffing activities are compensable under state law and such compensation cannot be precluded by collective bargaining agreement.
Plaintiffs are employees of Jones Dairy Farm seeking compensation for time spent putting on and removing safety shoe covers, frocks, hairnets, etc. before and after their shifts. Compensation for donning and doffing was not included in multiple collective bargaining agreements between the employees’ union and Jones Dairy.
Jones Diary argued the employees had bargained away their rights to donning and doffing compensation in their collective bargaining agreements. According to Jones Dairy, the employees during multiple negotiations had withdrawn proposals for donning and doffing compensation in exchange for higher base wages.
Alternatively, Jones Dairy argued the time spent donning and doffing was de mininmis or that the equitable defenses of promissory estoppel, waiver, laches, and unjust enrichment bar the plaintiffs’ claims.
A 4-3 court held that compensation for donning and doffing cannot be bargained away in a collective bargaining agreement. The law does not exempt employers from compensating employees for all hours worked, and donning and doffing is included in “hours worked” under Wis. Admin. Code § DWD 272.12. Wisconsin statute does not specifically allow employers to modify donning and doffing through collective bargaining, whereas federal law does. The federal law does not preempt state law because there is no Wisconsin statutory equivalent to the federal provisions. Furthermore, § DWD 274.05, which allows exemptions from certain wage requirements if both management and labor seek a waiver from DWD, does not apply to § DWD 272.12 requirements.
On Jones Dairy’s alternative arguments, the court found that the aggregate time employees spent donning and doffing was not de minimis. The court also found that Wis. Stat. § 109.03(5), which provides a private right of action in state court for employee wage claims, does not bar Jones Dairy’s equitable defenses. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the circuit court to reconsider the equitable defenses argued by Jones Dairy.
Justice Dallet wrote the decision, joined by Justices Walsh Bradley, Kelly and Hagedorn.
In a dissent, Justice Ziegler (joined by Chief Justice Roggensack) argued that donning and doffing compensation is subject to collective bargaining. According to the dissent, donning and doffing compensation requirements can be waived under § DWD 274.05. Chapter 274 incorporates § 272.12, which governs the compensability of donning and doffing.
Although Jones Dairy and the employees did not apply for a waiver under § DWD 274.05, the statute and previous case law allow wage requirements to be waived without a formal request to DWD if it is agreed upon in collective bargaining and other factors are met (i.e. waiving requirements is not dangerous to the life, health, safety or welfare of the employees). In this case, the dissent found there was an issue of material fact as to whether donning and doffing compensation was bargained away, so the dissent would have remanded to circuit court to rule whether Jones Dairy and the employees’ agreement met the conditions to waive donning and doffing wage requirements.
The dissent further argued that the de minimis doctrine does apply in Wisconsin and criticized the court for failing to adopt a standard to determine what is de minimis. Additionally, the dissent would have provided guidance to the circuit court on Jones Dairy’s equitable defenses.
In a second dissent, Justice R. Bradley agreed with the court that donning and doffing compensation cannot be bargained away but would have found the time spent donning and doffing de minimis. The dissent would have adopted the de minimis doctrine for wage claims under Wisconsin law and used the federal standard for determining when wages owed are de minimis.