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Overtime for Out-of-Office Emails?

Chicago police officers sued in Federal Court requesting unpaid overtime for off-duty work done on their BlackBerry phones.  In a recent Opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that while the BlackBerry work would have been compensable overtime, the Cops' claims failed because the City of Chicago had no knowledge of the unreported hours. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act generally requires that employers pay the federal minimum wage and overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a week. "Work" and "employment" is broadly interpreted under the statute.  Work that is "suffered and permitted" generally must be paid by the employer.  A business cannot sit back and accept work without compensating the employee.  However, as the Court noted in City of Chicago, an employer is not required to pay for work it did not know about, and had no reason to know about.  

In this case, the City of Chicago had a procedure in place for the Cops to report their overtime hours, and the Cops did so normally.  The Cops claimed that there was an "unwritten" policy in place that they should not report off-duty work done on their BlackBerry phones.  In fact, there was some evidence and "guidelines" that had supported the Cops claim.  However, at trial, the Cops were unsuccessful in proving the existence of this unwritten policy, failed to prove they were discouraged from filing overtime work done on the BlackBerrys, and ultimately could not prove that the supervisors knew or constructively knew that they did not report the work. 

Employers should use this case as a lesson to draft clear overtime policies to help avoid these types of disputes.  Thatcher Law Firm regularly represents businesses and employees in wage and hour disputes.  Please contact us with any questions. 

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