A police sergeant is suing the city of Chicago for allegedly violating Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations by not compensating for time spent on the employer-issued BlackBerry during off-hours. The case is an opt-in collective action, allowing for other “similarly situated employees” to join the suit.
The case. According to the law suit, the sergeant and the Collective Class were allegedly required to be on call and respond to communications outside of their normal working hours. The suit says that the employees were not compensated for the time spent on their employer-issued communication devices during off-hours, including overtime pay.
The sergeant and the Collective Class were all non-exempt employees and compensated on an hourly basis. They are suing for unpaid wages and overtime pay, as well as interest and attorney’s fees.
"Exempt employees, they make the same salaries no matter how many hours they work during a week, so using a BlackBerry from home at night is not an overtime issue for them. But when you're dealing with non-exempt employees, they have to be paid for all the time they work," explains Susan Prince, a legal editor for Business and Legal Resources (BLR) in an interview with NPR.
In addition, the suit claims that the city failed to keep accurate records of overtime, another requirement of the FLSA.
Implications for employers. As technology advances, the legal issues surrounding employer-issued communication devices are becoming more prevalent in the workplace. The report by NPR notes the difficulty of legal issues associated with cell phones, PDAs, or other work-related devices, in particular when it comes to overtime.
To avoid legal trouble, employers should be aware of the potential costs associated with handing out employer-issued communication devices, including addressing use during “off-hours.” Furthermore, organizations should establish a clear policy on the use of the devices and make sure all employees are aware of the guidelines.