Following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division, the City of East St. Louis, Illinois has been ordered to pay almost $160,000 in back wages and penalties to a total of 19 city police officers. The DOL investigation uncovered several FLSA violations. In particular, the DOL found that the city failed to pay police K-9 officers for the time spent off-duty caring for their four-legged partners. Additionally, according to the DOL, the city required K-9 officers to sign a “document agreeing to forgo overtime compensation” due to lack of overtime funds.
There are a couple of key take-aways from the DOL’s investigation and ultimate findings. First, as a general rule, the FLSA requires employers pay employees for all hours worked. This includes work that occurs outside of the employee’s normal work schedule. This is often referred to as off-the-clock work. Claims for off-the-clock work, like police officers caring for their K-9’s, or checking department emails, answering work related phone calls, or serving on committees and attending work-related meetings off-shift are on the rise. Employers need to carefully track and monitor their employees off-the-clock work-related activities.
Second, FLSA and DOL regulations contain strict provisions requiring that employers document an employee’s work time. Failure to adequately document an employee’s work time is a violation in and of itself. Accurate and complete recordkeeping is essential to effectively managing public safety professionals in the 21st century. Failure to keep records as required by law could expose employers to additional liability above and beyond the actual back wages and liquidated damages that might be owed to current and/or former employees.
Third, according to the DOL, the city required K-9 officers sign a document waiving their rights to FLSA overtime. Employees cannot collectively or individually waive their rights under the FLSA. While limited financial resources can create significant challenges for any employer, employees must receive all overtime as required by law. In fact, requiring employees to sign such a document could lead to greater liability for the employer.
Coincidentally, we are offering a brand new advanced FLSA live webinar this upcoming fall that is tailored to the emerging issues related to off-the-clock work for firefighters and other first responders. The class is entitled: Managing Firefighters’ Hours in the 21st Century: Off-the-Clock Work. For more information, click here.
For more on the DOL’s investigation, click here.