‘Don and doff’ doesn’t wear well

Frankly, we don’t understand the validity of those “don and doff” payment lawsuits that have been spreading wildly among law enforcement agencies across the U.S. To The Examiner, it seems as if most employees required to be in special work uniforms at the start of their shifts have the option of either coming in a few minutes early to change in the locker room or to simply drive to the job wearing the basic uniform.

However, although judges’ decisions nationwide have been far from consistent, the principle of “pay for putting on pants” has been found to have merit in an increasing number of cases — and not only for police uniforms.

The U.S. Supreme Court established an initial precedent in 2006, ruling that employees at a meat-packing plant should be compensated for putting on and taking off their safety equipment and uniforms.

Since then, more and more employee groups have sued to cash in on their getting-dressed time. The California Highway Patrol led the way for law enforcement “don and doff” awards in this state. Bay Area officers in San Francisco, Richmond, San Leandro and elsewhere also filed similar lawsuits.

Daly City police have become the latest to win a settlement. More than 100 officers will each receive $2,500 in retroactive pay for the past two years and ongoing compensation for 20 daily minutes of clothes changing. The lawsuit was settled as part of labor-contract negotiations that ended last week after more than a year.

Daly City originally contested the lawsuit, but ultimately decided it was more prudent “to move on” and avoid more attorney costs.

Out-of-court settlements are not unusual in these “don and doff” lawsuits. San Luis Obispo spent $56,000 in outside legal fees to defend against the fees before giving in and paying some $24,000 annually for one-tenth of an hour in “don and doff” time per shift.

Not every police union official agrees that suing to be paid for putting on the uniform is an admirable idea. Bryan Soller is president of one of the two unions representing officers in Mesa, Ariz., where the other association is appealing to overturn a lower-court loss. “We think this is going to look pretty bad in the public’s eye,” Soller said. “I just think this is going to look greedy.”

Soller sums it up nicely, although we can recognize there might be a reasonable argument that getting into unusually complicated work gear is an intrinsic part of the job — for example, a SWAT officer in full armor or a motorcycle officer pulling his boots on. But otherwise, where does it end? Are all sanitation workers entitled to come into work wearing white shirts and neckties, and be paid for donning their coveralls and protective shoes?

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