A Chicago federal judge has determined employers can be forced under the law to pay workers overtime for certain “ride time” spent traveling to a worksite, agreeing with a group of workers for a party tent and equipment rental company who argued their employer could have been required to pay them overtime under federal and Illinois wage laws.

The judge, however, stopped shy just yet of finding the employer definitely owed its workers the overtime they believed they were due, saying the potential class action lawsuit between the workers and Big Top Tent and Party Rental still had far yet to go.

On April 12, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. rejected arguments presented by Big Top that, under federal and state law, it could choose how to pay its workers for time spent riding in trucks on the way to and from job sites, when, the company argued, the workers were not actually working.

The case had landed in federal court in 2015, when plaintiff Jose Pizano filed a class action against his employer, Big Top, for allegedly underpaying him and other similarly situated workers, by not counting the hours he and his fellow workers spent riding in company trucks during their workday toward the 40-hour threshold for overtime pay.

Court documents indicated Pizano argued he “ and other employees would ‘go to Defendants’ worksite each day, load Defendants’ trucks with the necessary tents, and other supplies for the day, and travel to the clients’ sites to install the tents as well as any other requested equipment.’”

This, he said, caused him and his co-workers to regularly work more than 40 hours a week, yet not receive overtime pay.

Big Top disputed the assertion they owed Pizano and others like him overtime pay, saying they did not believe the law required them to pay workers any more than “regular rate” for the daily “ride time” to and from worksites at the beginning and end of the day, during which the workers who were not driving would “make personal phone calls, sleep or snack.”

The judge noted Big Top’s lawyers argued “’ride time’ is a ‘convenience’ to the employees and not an ‘integral part of the crew’s job.’”

Judge Dow, however, said that argument “misses the point.”

Citing U.S. Department of Labor regulations and a number of precedent cases, the judge said he believed the law clearly indicates such “ride time” is “compensable.”

“The fact that employees are not building tents or cleaning tools while they are driven around in Defendants’ trucks is irrelevant,” Dow wrote. “Under the ‘continuous workday rule,’ time is compensable ‘between the commencement and completion’ of the same workday ‘whether or not the employee engages in work throughout all of that period.’”

The judge, however, said the question of whether Pizano and other potential class member plaintiffs are actually owed the overtime will be based on the facts of the case, including the nature of the tasks Pizano claims he performed and for which he is owed overtime pay, which will come forward as the case moves ahead.

“Assuming that Plaintiff establishes that he performed such tasks and that these tasks are integral and indispensable to Defendants’ principal activity, the travel time from Defendants’ yard to the job site, and between jobsites, are part of the day’s work and must be counted as hours that Plaintiff worked under (federal and state wage laws),” the judge said.

Pizano is represented in the action by attorneys with the Workers’ Law Office P.C., and the Raise the Floor Alliance, each of Chicago.

Big Top is defended by attorney James M. Urtis, of Chicago.

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Workers' Law Office PC

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