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Is time spent donning and doffing PPE deemed to be work time?

A production line worker who sought to claim that time spent donning and removing personal protective equipment (PPE) constituted time worked rejected by the Fair Work Commission and was therefore not entitled to payments.

The employee, who was covered by the Meat Industry Award 2020 (“Award”), lodged a dispute concerning whether the time spent donning and removing their PPE before and after unpaid meal breaks was actually time work for which he was entitled to be paid.

It was argued by the employee that he was required to perform required work duties by donning PPE before and after commencing work. The employee was also required to undertake this process both at the beginning and end of meal breaks.

The employee claimed that this process took approximately 10-15 minutes and required him to put on:

- A shirt

- Pants,

- Rubber boots,

- A hair and beard net,

- Earplugs,

As well as to wash his hands and boots, before donning gloves, arm sleeves, and an apron.

The employee argued that the donning and doffing of PPE constituted “essential work duties” and therefore should be classified as being “called upon to work during a meal break” within the meaning of clause 15.1(b) of the Award. On this basis, the employee claimed that he was thereby entitled to an overtime payment.

In comparison, the employer asserted that the donning and removing PPE was a “personal” activity that formed part of the employee being “clothed and ready to work”.  It was further stated by the employer that the employee received 5% above the Award minimum rate and enjoyed the benefit of an additional 10-minute paid break which in practice offset the minimal time spent during an unpaid meal break to put on or remove PPE.

In making its findings, the Commission concluded that, “it was reasonable and necessary” for the Applicant to be required to wear all the PPE provided to him, both for the purposes of his own personal protection and wellbeing, as well as the maintenance of hygiene standards for the food products being produced in the workplace.

The Commission further held that the activities described by the employee were not considered to be time worked. It was noted by the Commission that the employee was sufficiently compensated through the above award payments and offsets contained in his employment contract.

The Commission held there is no general rule that the donning of PPE amounts to work, but that there may be instances where the PPE required to be worn by employees is unusually complex or related to a specialised task. In such circumstances, the donning and removal of such PPE could be deemed to be working.

This case has highlighted that there is no universal rule which applies to employees as to whether the donning and doffing of PPE will constitute work time, and that employers do need to give careful consideration as to activities employees are required to perform as part of carrying out their role.

It is also essential that employers understand the provisions contained in the applicable modern award/s that apply in their workplace and ensure that employees are being remunerated in accordance with the applicable modern award conditions.

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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