Orange County Seal

Published: Feb. 14, 2014 Updated: Feb. 16, 2014 1:17 p.m.

Most agree that taxpayers should pay police well for risking their lives in the line of duty.

But should they be paid for the time they spend strapping on their gun belt and bulletproof vest? Or tying their boot laces? What if the department insists they dress in the stationhouse, instead of at home?

Hundreds of Orange County Sheriff’s deputies sued the department between 2005 and 2012, saying they spent up to 30 minutes getting dressed before work, and up to 28 minutes undressing – and they weren’t getting compensated.

Donning and doffing, the legal term for putting on or taking off work clothes, made headlines last month when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a steel company couldn’t be forced to compensate its workers for the time it takes them to put on safety gear such as flame-retardant jackets and pants.

In the case of Sandifer v. United States Steel Corporation, the high court ruled most of that safety gear was a form of clothing. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the court said, employers cannot be required to pay workers for donning work clothes unless both sides agree to that as part of a union contract.

While attorneys say that case applies directly to the issues raised by Orange County deputies, it won’t help county officials.

That’s because the county spent millions fighting the donning and doffing issue in federal court – won a victory – and then settled in 2012 rather than litigate an appeal.

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