Police officers across the United States, like many Americans in general use Blackberry or other mobile devices to conduct business. However, police officers are subject to a number of different rules when it comes to overtime laws and regulations and might now be compensated for time in this regard related to police department Blackberry devices or personal digital assistants (PDA). It seems now that the mobile phone culture has come into play in the context of law enforcement overtime compensation
Recently, a police sergeant in the City of Chicago filed a civil action against the City, claiming that he and others are due significant overtime compensation because they were required to use their Blackberry devices to continue working even though their official shifts were over.
Police Work on a Police Issued Blackberry or other PDA
In the civil action, filed on May 24, 2010, Chicago police Sergeant Jeffrey Allen contends that his connection to work means that the city of Chicago owes him a significant amount of overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA). Sergeant Allen filed this suit on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated police officers employed by the Chicago Police Department “in any rank as non-exempt personnel who worked ‘off the clock’ using Police Department issued PDA’s or other electronic communications devices without receiving compensation for each hour worked, including overtime compensation” over the past 3 years. Allen’s Civil Complaint, at 3.
The lawsuit contends that the Blackberry devices or PDAs were issued by the Chicago Police Department and required such police officers to be on-call for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Essentially, the lawsuit claims that they were forced to access and review “work related e-mails, voicemails, and text message work orders regardless of their location.” Allen’s Civil Complaint, at 4. Sergeant Allen contends, in his lawsuit, that he received numerous telephone calls, emails, voicemails and text messages while not being compensated for his time off the clock.
Sergeant Allen contends that he was expected to respond to these work related messages during the night and early into the morning, while technically off duty.
What this Means for Police Departments
It appears that police overtime FLSA lawsuits have finally reached current times. In our legal practice, we often see a lot of these types of issues as we represent law enforcement officers and police unions in FLSA cases. Initially, I think what the civil action filed in this case might mean for other police departments is a quick return to the policy drafting table and then consultation with police unions (where applicable). This particular case will ultimately be decided on a number of factors, to include (but not limited to) just how required the use of the Blackberry or PDA devices are while off duty.
Many police departments have general 24-hour on duty policies for law enforcement officers, but I would suspect that not many have comprehensive mobile device policies. The new department policies, to be effective, will have to also address the issue of exempt versus non-exempt law enforcement employees. Exempt employees, i.e. those that are employed on a strict salary basis will likely not benefit from these types of cases, while non-exempt employees, in theory, have to be paid for all hours of work.
Another issue that is sure to come up is the volume of electronic communications that takes place through these Blackberry or other PDA devices while they are off duty. If we are talking about a few minutes a day, off duty, the courts might consider this amount of time to be “de minimus” (i.e. too few minutes to be compensated), but as we reach 15 minutes a day, the arguments for FLSA overtime increase and will have to be dealt with either at the department level, or in court.
In that light, police departments will have to seriously address these issues, and do so now, because these types of lawsuit are certain to increase in the future as we move towards a wireless society in all respects. For a copy of the Allen lawsuit, please click here Download Blackberrylawsuit