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Recent Decision on Donning and Doffing
of Police Uniforms and Equipment

Aaron Nisenson, General Counsel I.U.P.A.  

A California Court recently issued one of the first decisions involving the “donning and doffing” (i.e. changing) of police uniforms and equipment.  Martin v. City of Richmond, 2007 WL 2317590, (N.D.Cal. Aug 10, 2007) (NO. C 06-06146 CRB).  In a split decision, the Court held that the donning and doffing of uniforms was not compensable, while the donning and doffing of equipment may be compensable if officers were required to do so at the police station.   

 The officers sued the City of Richmond for compensation for donning and doffing their police uniforms and their duty equipment.  The City argued that since it allowed officers to put on their uniforms and duty equipment at home, the officers were not entitled to compensation for this donning and doffing even if it occurred at work.  

The Court distinguished between the officers’ uniforms (such as cloths and footwear), and the officers’ “duty equipment” (such as badges, holsters, firearms, and bullet-proof vests).  The Court found that officers were not entitled to compensation for donning and doffing their police uniforms, whether at work or at home.  The Court explained that “no matter how helpful or socially significant a particular outfit might be to the performance of an employee's duties, the law rejects the idea that donning and doffing of mere clothes is enough to establish an employee's right to compensation under the FLSA.” 

However, the Court ruled that a trail was necessary to determine whether officers were entitled to compensation for donning and doffing their duty equipment.  The Court held that the FLSA would require compensation, even though the City allowed officers to change duty equipment at home, if as a practical matter the officers were compelled to put on and off the duty equipment at work.  In this case, the officers had provided evidence that they could not practically put on their protective gear at home, and that the vast majority of officers put on their gear at the station, while the City had provided evidence that the officers could and did change gear at home.  Because of this factual dispute, the Court held that a trial was necessary to determine “whether the ‘nature of [a peace officer's] work’ actually requires them to don and doff their gear at the station.”

While this case provides some guidance to officers, the law in this area is still very unsettled and the outcome of the cases is very dependent on the individual facts.  If union leaders or their counsel have questions regarding whether given time is compensable, they can contact the I.U.P.A. General Counsel’s Office at 800-247-4872.