CHICAGO — A federal appeals court has backed Chicago City Hall in its dispute with a group of police officers who claimed they should be paid overtime for off-duty emailing on their official Blackberrys.
And that decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit demonstrates the importance for employers to have a clearly defined policy on overtime work for employees, said Amy Puckett, an associate attorney at the firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.
The ruling found that the Chicago Police Department is not responsible to pay officers overtime for their off-duty work activities that were not reported properly.
The former officers alleged that they were entitled to overtime pay because they had been monitoring their emails on their official Blackberry phones after work hours.
However, the court determined the city was not liable because the plaintiffs failed to prove the defendants had knowledge of the work being done.
The argument revolved around the fact the officers failed to report the extra work time on specific forms the department uses.
“I think this case really emphasized the importance of having a written policy about what the employees' overtime rules are,” Puckett said. “I think the Seventh Circuit in this case looked at the police department employment policy in terms of reporting overtime, but [it] also looked to see whether the police department gave any signals that it didn’t actually follow its own policy.”
Puckett said the court determined there were no signs that the policy was not being implemented.
“The other thing the court in this case really looked at is that they emphasized it was an employer's responsibility to pay for all the work the employer knows about, even if it is kind of work that the employer didn’t approve," she said. "If they knew or should have known about this work, then the employer is responsible ... [for] paying overtime.”
She said the best thing that employers can do is go over their employee handbook to make sure it is thorough.
“I think it is very important for employees to consider their employee handbook and what the employee handbook says about reporting overtime - also to make sure they are actually following that,” Puckett said.
Puckett said employers who followed this advice would have a defense if litigation ever arose.
“If the employee doesn’t follow that procedure, and it is clear that the employer does consistently abide by that procedure, then that provides the employer really a level of protection," she said.