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Know the Law: PPE Raises Questions About Donning and Doffing Pay

Written by: Laura McKelligott Kahl

Published in the Union Leader (12/6/2020)

Q: Donning and doffing sound like words from another era. Are they still relevant to my workplace?

A: Donning and doffing refers to time spent putting on and taking off clothing or gear at work. Generally, non-exempt employees must be paid for all time spent donning and doffing clothing or gear unless the donning and doffing is merely preliminary or postliminary to the performance of the employee’s job activities.

When changing clothes or gear at work is required by law, by the employer, or by the nature of the work – such as when medical personnel must change into or out of scrubs when they arrive at and leave work – time spent donning and doffing must be paid because it is integral to, rather than preliminary or postliminary to, the principal activities of the job, unless it is “de minimis.” By contrast, if an employee can change into required clothing or gear at home, then donning or doffing that clothing or gear is not a principal activity of the job, and does not need to be paid.

When it comes to personal protective equipment, time spent donning and doffing unique items, such as Kevlar gloves, must be paid. However, time spent donning and doffing non-unique items, such as hard hats or goggles, need not. Additionally, time spent donning or doffing non-unique PPE is likely de minimis.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more employees than ever are wearing PPE such as masks, gloves, and face shields. This PPE is often required by law or by the employer. Therefore, employees must be paid for time spent donning and doffing it.

Employees are also now required to undergo temperature checks, complete screening questions and perform additional cleaning. While these activities might not ordinarily be integral to the performance of an employees’ principal duties, because these sorts of procedures are required by New Hampshire COVID-19 guidelines, time spent in these activities likely must be paid.

When donning and doffing or COVID-19 screening time must be paid, employers must carefully track it, as well as all time spent walking between the screening, changing and work areas. Employees should be instructed to clock in at the beginning of a shift (or just after a meal break) immediately before being screened or donning clothing or gear, and clock out at the end of the shift (or just before a meal break) immediately after doffing the clothing or gear.

Laura is an attorney in McLane Middleton’s Woburn office and is admitted to practice in Massachusetts.  She can be reached at [email protected].

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton, Professional Association.  Questions and ideas for future columns should be emailed to [email protected].  Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice.  We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.

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