Cayla Jackson, a former dispatcher and jailer for the Prairie County Arkansas Sheriff’s Department has filed a lawsuit against her former employer for multiple violations of both the FLSA and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act. Jackson further claims that many other county dispatchers and jailers are not receiving overtime or straight time pay as required by both federal and state law and will likely join in her lawsuit.
Jackson’s allegations can be broken down into two basic categories. First, the county fails to pay Jackson and others overtime for hours worked over forty every workweek. Second, when the county does acknowledge overtime pay is due, [for working additional unscheduled work hours] the county opts to provide comp time in lieu of FLSA overtime. However, that comp time is provided hour-for-hour instead of 1.5 hours of comp time for every hour of overtime that is due to the employee. If proven, both of these claims are violations of the FLSA.
According to Jackson’s complaint, dispatchers and jailers work either three or four 12-hour shifts per workweek. If a dispatcher or jailer works his or her scheduled shifts, they will work 36 hours in one week and 48 hours in the next. This is a common work schedule among law enforcement, public safety dispatchers, and some EMTs and paramedics. Jackson alleges the county merges the hours worked between the two workweeks. In other words, the county averages the 36 hours in one week and the 48 hours in the next week to pay a static 84 hours of pay bi-weekly. Averaging work hours from one week to another is an FLSA violation.
Jackson also alleges that the county fails to pay any overtime, despite working at least 84 hours bi-weekly. According to the complaint, the county utilizes the FLSA’s §207(k) partial overtime exemption when paying its “civilian” dispatchers and jailers. It may surprise some to learn that the FLSA’s §207(k) partial overtime exemption is not only applicable to firefighters. Law enforcement officers can also fall under the §207(k) exemption, albeit with different requirements as compared to firefighters. However, Department of Labor regulations specifically excludes “civilian” dispatchers from being classified as §207(k) personnel. According to Jackson’s complaint, she is not trained in law enforcement or empowered to enforce the law and make arrests. As a result, she claims the county misclassified her as §207(k) law enforcement officer.
Jackson also claims the county requires employees arrive to work 10 to 15 minutes prior to the start of their official work shift. However, the county only pays its employees for the actual time of the work shift. Jackson is seeking payment for the uncompensated 10 or 15 minutes of work time every work shift. Wage and hour claims related to the compensability of pre-and-post shift work are on the rise. Employers that rely on 24/7 employee coverage are very susceptible to these types of claims if not careful. There are ways to minimize the exposure created by requiring or even allowing employees to arrive early in preparation of their work shifts. However, those steps must be taken pro-actively to minimize potential liability from a lawsuit like this.
Finally, Jackson’s FLSA comp time allegations are rather straight-forward. According to the complaint, the county has a policy of administering some employees comp time in lieu of FLSA overtime pay. This is typically done when an employee works an entire additional shift during the workweek. This is a permissible practice under the FLSA provided the parties adhere to the FLSA’s comp time requirements. However, according to Jackson, this comp time is accrued at 1:1 ratio, rather than time and one-half as required by the FLSA. For example, if an employee is owed 10 hours of FLSA overtime and the employer and the employee have agreed to substitute FLSA comp time in lieu of FLSA overtime, that employee should receive 15 hours of comp time. The 10 overtime hours equal 15 hours of accrued comp time.
Jackson is seeking three-years back wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees.
Do you have questions related to the FLSA and how it applies to firefighters, law enforcement officers, dispatchers, and other public safety professionals? If yes, please consider joining us at our next FLSA for Fire Departments live webinars. The next is only a week away.
Here is a copy of Jackson’s complaint.