A lot of us do work from home but do scanning emails and answering calls from bosses on your smartphone after hours constitute work that should be compensated? A lawsuit winding its way through federal court in Chicago says it does.
Chicago police Sergent Jeffrey Allen claims in the suit that the city owes him and fellow officers overtime pay for work performed on department-requisitioned BlackBerry phones.
“My friends have multiple cell phones and everyone complains that it is a ball and chain outside of the workplace,” Allen tells CBS.
If the plaintiffs eventually prevail, it could mean millions of dollars in back pay.
Allen’s lawyer is Paul Gieger. He tells CBS, “There is unwritten promises being made – of promotion, of career advancement, of prestige and this and that – but don’t you dare submit an overtime slip.”
According to the suit, police brass pressured subordinates in the department’s organized crime bureau to answer work-related calls and emails on their BlackBerries, and then also dissuaded the officers from filing for overtime.
“You have this culture, that we maintain has been built, where these officers that the law requires be paid overtime, are actually working for free.”
So, how much work are we talking about?
“The email average was over 1,500 a month for my officer, and I know of people who are getting 90 to a hundred a day, who are police officers.”
The city responded that written policy, on the contrary, specifically instructs officers to ask for overtime. And it argues that Allen lumps together urgent emails with ones that, while sent when he was off duty, could have been responded to the next day.
Geiger disagrees, “In not even a two year period he receieved over 27,000 emails and they’re supposed to have these phones on and monitor them, or they won’t have these jobs in that specialized unit.”
In a critical ruling in Allen’s favor last month, a judge said the plaintiff had demonstrated sufficient merit for the lawsuit to continue. It was initially filed in 2010.
While giving the lawsuit a green light for now, complex questions have yet to be addressed, including whether answering calls or scanning emails can be defined as work.
Up to 200 officers are expected to sign onto the suit, after which their attorneys face the daunting task of sifting through thousands of email and phone records to somehow determine which should qualify for overtime.
A spokesman for the city law office, Roderick Drew, said in a brief email that he is limited about what he can say about ongoing litigation.
After the suit was filed three years ago, then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said asking for overtime pay for cell phone use is “silliness.” He told a news conference at the time, “We’re public servants. If I asked for that, I’d be paid millions of dollars.”
The officers attorney says I doubt they’ll think it is silly now.
As Dave Ross pointed out on Seattle’s Morning News, the policing is hardly the only job that might require checking email off the clock.
Maybe they’ll have a class action lawsuit on their hands.
A report by KIRO Radio’s Linda Thomas and Dan Restione