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Employees in Pennsylvania Seek Compensation For COVID-19 Screening Time

October 19, 2021

Hourly employees at a Pennsylvania Cargill meatpacking facility claim they are entitled to extra pay for the time they spent being checked for COVID-19 symptoms before the start of each shift and during lunch breaks.  The proposed class action is being brought by Jennifer Villa, a plant worker at Cargill’s Hazelton, PA facility.  In her complaint, Villa alleges the mandatory testing for COVID-19 required employees to come in before their shifts and to miss state-mandated lunch breaks in order to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms; however, these workers were not compensated for this time, which was in violation of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (the “PMWA”).  Whether you are a Pennsylvania employer or not, you should follow this lawsuit as it could be filed in every state!

The complaint alleges that because meatpackers are “essential” workers, the plant needed to operate at full capacity during the pandemic.   By necessity,  employees work in close proximity of one another on the meatpacking line.  To reduce the risk of a plant-wide outbreak, Cargill instituted a companywide policy which required all workers to be checked for COVID-19 symptoms prior to the start of each shift and at the end of each lunch break.  Villa alleges this caused long lines, and instead of paying employees for this extra time, Cargill would subject workers to discipline if they failed to arrive at their workstations ready to work for the start of their shift.  According to the complaint, this required workers to arrive at work earlier than before to undergo the COVID-19 examinations. In addition, the long lines associated with post-lunch screenings required workers to finish their lunches early in order to queue in time for their post-lunch break examination.  None of this time was compensated.  The complaint asserts the failure to give workers their state mandated 30-minute break was in violation of law.  The complaint goes on to allege since the screenings were mandated by Cargill the time spent in line and at the screening should be compensated.  Moreover, to the extent such time pushed the workers over a 40-hour work week, the time should be compensated at time and a half.

The plaintiff seeks to represent a class of all similarly situated employees at Cargill’s Pennsylvania facility.

This action will be closely watched by legal scholars as many companies across a wide swath of industries implemented similar requirements for their workforces during the pandemic.  It is interesting to note the complainant sited a very recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, Heimbach v. Amazon, to help argue her point.  In Heimbach, the court ruled that Amazon’s mandatory security screenings at the beginning and end of each workers’ warehouse shift should be paid time.  Many states have similar statutes to the PMWA which requires employees to be paid for “all hours worked.” It has long been established that this time includes the time an employee is required to be on an employer’s premises regardless of whether the employee is actually performing job-related duties.

If you think this matter may be relevant to you, whether you are a Pennsylvania based employer or not, Brody and Associates is here to help. Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with the latest state and federal employment laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.