Many employers may be seeking guidance in developing policies for work performed by employees that are offsite or “off-duty.” The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires that non-exempt employees receive overtime compensation for time worked in excess of 40 hours per week. But accounting for work performed remotely can present challenges. A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois provides some important points of clarification for employers looking for answers.
A class of 51 officers employed by the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Organized Crime (“BOC”) pursued a claim for overtime compensation, alleging that they were not properly compensated for time spent working on their Department-issued BlackBerry devices while off duty. The case proceeded to trial on the threshold question of whether the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) maintained an unwritten policy to deny plaintiffs compensation for off-duty work performed on their BlackBerrys.
After hearing several days of testimony, Magistrate Judge Schenkier held that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the CPD “maintained an unwritten policy not to pay plaintiffs for compensable work performed outside of normal work hours on their CPD-issued BlackBerry devices.” Although his decision was limited to the facts specific to this case, Judge Schenkier’s 38-page opinion provides some insight on this difficult-to-navigate issue:
The court concluded with some words of advice to the parties, which perhaps serves as valuable guidance to all employers facing similar issues:
Our ruling today only resolves the plaintiffs’ claims for payment of overtime in this specific lawsuit. Even had we found for plaintiffs, this Court would lack the authority to dictate the procedures that the City should adopt to deal with off-duty use of the BlackBerrys…. That said, we hope our ruling today provides helpful guidance to the parties. The march of technology has been steadily (indeed, rapidly) moving forward. We expect that this march forward will continue, and that our use of and reliance on devices that allow work to be performed remotely will not abate. We thus expect that members of the BOC will continue to use their BlackBerrys or like devices while off duty, because of the important work that can be accomplished with them. It is up to the parties to work cooperatively to prevent future litigation concerning compensation for the off-duty use of Department-issued BlackBerrys.
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