A group of three Mobile, Alabama Police Department K-9 handlers have filed a federal lawsuit alleging the City of Mobile is violating the FLSA by not properly compensating them for all of the time spent caring for their four-legged partners. Wage and hour claims related to “off-the-clock” work activities like this are relatively commonplace in today’s workplace. The FLSA requires employers pay non-overtime exempt employees for all the time that they are “suffered or permitted” to work. Compensable worktime is not only limited to an employee’s normally scheduled work hours. As a general rule, anytime a non-overtime exempt employee is performing work for his or her employer, they must be compensated.
Here, the officers make some basic allegations related to their “off-the-clock” claims. The three plaintiffs are the only officers currently assigned to the city’s K-9 Unit. The city requires the officers keep their K-9’s in secure kennels at the officer’s personal residences when off-duty. The officers can be responsible for as many as three different K-9s at any given time.
As part of the department’s K-9 Unit, the three plaintiffs are on-call 24 hours per day and are responsible for their K-9’s “care and maintenance at all times.” The officers further allege that on scheduled workdays, K-9 officers begin their day earlier and end their day later than other Mobile police officers, due to the care and maintenance of their K-9s. According to the officers, they are not compensated for this time.
Between 2003 and 2008, the city had a policy of providing officers assigned to the K-9 unit with additional compensation, above and beyond their normal wages for the care and maintenance of the K-9s in the officers’ care. Officers received one additional hour of pay every workday and one hour of overtime pay for every weekend day and holiday. However, around 2009 the city altered this policy by eliminating the additional one hour of pay each workday for the care and maintenance of the K-9s. The city continued the policy of paying one hour of overtime for every weekend day and holiday.
Additionally, the officers’ claim that there was no agreement between the city and the officers regarding the amount of compensable worktime the officers must spend caring for their assigned K9’s while off-duty. Historically, courts and the Department of Labor have looked to the existence of a “reasonable agreement” between an employer and employee when determining the compensability of “off-the-clock” work like this. This makes sense. It is extremely difficult for an employer to properly compensate an employee for small amounts of work time [often only a few minutes or even less] that is performed outside of the workplace.
Click here is more on the officer’s claims from WKRG News, including a copy of the complaint.
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