Friday, January 29, 2016

Officers' Off-Duty Use Of Cellphones Not An FLSA Violation

A federal court ruled the Chicago Police Department did not violate the Fair Labor Standards Act by requiring police officers to respond to work-related calls, emails, and texts on their department-issued cellphones while off duty.

In early 2010 several members of the Chicago Police Department's Organized Crime Bureau filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago alleging it willfully denied them overtime pay for off-duty work. The department  issued the officers cellphones. The officers alleged the city knew the officers often worked overtime hours responding to work-related communications on these cellphones but refused to pay them for their work.

In Allen v. City of Chicago, the U.S. Northern District Court of Illinois conditionally certified a class of police officers who alleged the city owed them overtime pay and penalties under the FLSA.  The court then held a bench trial, after which Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier ruled the officers had failed to prove that the city knowingly violated the FLSA.

The court found the officers did in fact perform compensable work by using their cellphones while off duty. The court ruled responding to communications from their superiors, their subordinates, confidential informants, and other law enforcement agencies involved in police investigations or task forces was compensable work.

However, the court also found the department generally did not know about the officers' off-duty work using their cellphones. The evidence supporting the officers' claims was weak. No officer was ever denied an overtime request related to off-duty use of their cellphone, nor did any officer ever complain to the department about this issue. The few times that an officer submitted a request for overtime pay for off-duty work, the department was not told it was for work on a cellphone and the department always paid.

Because the city did not know about the extent of officers' off-duty work using their cellphones, the court ruled the officers could not recover penalties from the city for violating the FLSA. Instead, the officers could only recover unpaid overtime wages for the hours they worked. An employer is liable under the FLSA when it suffers or permits its employees to work overtime but does not pay them overtime wages. If an employer does not know its employees are working overtime, it is not suffering or permitting the employees to work and has not knowingly violated the FLSA.