Police officers claim checking emails outside of work should be compensated as overtime

Tennessee employees as well as employees all across the country are entitled to receive overtime pay for any hours worked over forty in a single work week. A company or local office might get away with not paying overtime by making their employees perform work related tasks while they are off the clock. This is made even easier for companies to do because of technological advances such as the internet and using cell phones. However, even if tasks such as checking e-mail or using a cell phone are done after hours by employees, if the work is related to their job, then under the Fair Labor Standards Act, they may be entitled to receive overtime pay.

In this case, Police Department Sergeant Jeffrey Allen originally filed his suit, alleging overtime compensation violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act in 2010. On January 14, 2013, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier granted Allen’s conditional certification for a collective action under the FLSA. In his suit, Allen claims that the city violated the FLSA when it failed to compensate him, an hourly non-exempt employee, and a putative class of police officers for time spent reading and responding to emails via city-issued BlackBerries outside of normal working hours.

According to his claim, Allen’s proposed group of plaintiffs for the collective action included “All Police Department members . . . who worked ‘off the clock’ using Police Department issued PDA’s or other electronic communication devices without receiving compensation for each hour worked . . . .” Allen alleged that he and roughly 200 other officers in the Police Department’s Bureau of Organized Crime were required to use their police department issued devices to perform work outside of normal business hours and were then pressured into not reporting the overtime worked. The city responded by stating that it had in place procedures for reporting overtime and that the plaintiff failed to take advantage of them.

Allen claimed that, the bureau had an “unwritten” rule which held that officers who wanted a promotion were expected not to report overtime for hours spent responding to emails and calls while they were off-duty. Having obtained conditional certification, Allen now must notify other potential plaintiffs of the suit, who then have until April 8 to opt in. Following the April 8 deadline, the court will hold a status hearing and proceed with the case.

To determine that Allen had made a modest factual showing that he and other officers were subjected to an unwritten policy of not being paid for the off-duty use of their Blackberries, the court focused on the depositions of eight Chicago Police Department officers. These depositions, the court said, indicated that “Sergeants and Lieutenants in the Bureau of Organized Crime believed that they were expected to check and possibly respond to emails and calls made to their department-issued BlackBerries while they were off-duty without being compensated for these activities.”

Technological advances are changing the way companies and businesses conduct their work all across the country, and even in Tennessee. However, these advances do not change what hard working employees should be paid when they work over forty hours in a work week. If you or someone you work with feel as though you have not received your overtime due to similar workplace situation, then you should contact on of our FLSA Labor Lawyers. We will hear your claim and work with you to make sure your overtime rights are being upheld and you get the compensation that you are entitled to under The Fair Labor Standards Act.

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