A police K9 officer from Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of himself and other “similarly situated” individuals for violations of the FLSA and state wage and hour laws. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court on December 29, 2023, contains allegations that the city failed to adequately compensate the officer and other officers for all the time spent caring for and training their K9 partners. According to the complaint, more than thirty additional current and retired K9 officers could eventually join the lawsuit.
Quoting from the complaint:
- Class Plaintiffs are expected to live with their K9 Partners and provide care for them outside of work hours.
- K9 Partners are not pets. They are working dogs and come with their own set of safety hazards and requirements. K9 Partners are highly trained, highly intelligent dogs who are trained to bite or otherwise subdue suspects on command, requiring additional care and precautions than other dogs who may be kept as pets. Care for K9 Partners includes, but is not limited to, walking and exercising the dogs multiple times on a daily basis, feeding, grooming, training, coordinating veterinary care, ensuring that the dogs interact safely with all other residents of the home human or animal, securing the home and ensuring it remains secure so the dog cannot get out, and other responsibilities.
- Class Plaintiffs are expected to engage in these responsibilities every day of the week, before and after their scheduled shift and on scheduled days off as the care, health and safety of the K9 Partner is the K9 officer’s responsibility.
- In the past ten years Plaintiff has complained to the union and to administration on several occasions that they should be receiving overtime pay for the at home care of K9 Partners. They were ignored.
- Plaintiff and Class Plaintiffs filed several union grievances notifying Defendant that they
- were entitled to overtime pay. They were told at that time that backpay was “not on the table” but they would try to negotiate for overtime moving forward.
- Both through internal complaints and through the grievances, Defendant was on notice that Plaintiffs and Class Plaintiffs were entitled to overtime compensation which they were not receiving, and nothing was done to rectify the situation for years afterwards. As such, Defendant’s behavior in denying overtime compensation has been and continues to be a willful violation of the FLSA, PMWA, WPCL and Pennsylvania Common Law.
- Additionally, when filing the grievances, Class Plaintiff’s noted that K9 officers employed by Defendant in the Sherriff’s Office receive overtime pay for caring for their dogs at home, as do the K9 officers stationed at the Philadelphia Airport.
Uncompensated work performed outside of an employee’s normal work schedule is often referred to as “off-the-clock” work. Lawsuits that contain allegations of uncompensated off-the-clock work [like this one] are on the rise. The FLSA requires employers pay overtime eligible employees for all hours worked. This even includes work that an employer did not request. Typical examples of off-the-clock work include:
- Employees answering and drafting work-related emails while not at work.
- Employees staying late following a normally scheduled work shift.
- Employees arriving early and beginning work before the official start of a work shift.
The prospect of tackling potential issues related to off-the-clock work may seem overwhelming for some employers, however with the proper knowledge and tools, employers can manage this potential liability. First, employers need understand and recognize the various types and root causes for off-the-clock claims. Second, employers need to develop policies and procedures to address employees that may work off-the-clock to minimize potential liability from future potential claims. These policies should include at a minimum:
- Creating defined rules regarding which employees can authorize overtime.
- Maintaining and preserving accurate records related to hours worked.
- Instituting an open-door complaint mechanism procedure with anti-retaliation provisions regarding compensation practices for employees.
The examples cited above are just a few components necessary for any police or fire department to be prepared to combat potential off-the-clock claims.
Is your organization prepared?
Please join us next month in Georgetown, Texas for the first post-pandemic FLSA for Fire Departments live “in-person” seminar [not a webinar]!
Here is a copy of the officer’s complaint.