The Consequences of Employees Working Off the Clock

Workers can encounter many forms of misconduct that amount to violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. One of these issues relates to work performed off the clock. Whether you are an employee or an employer, if you have questions about unpaid hours and the FLSA, be sure to get in touch with an experienced Atlanta wage and hour lawyer to understand thoroughly your rights and responsibilities.

A major insurance company — whose CGI mascot is widely popular and seemingly ubiquitous on some television sports broadcasts — has found itself accused of multiple FLSA violations in the last few years, with the most recent action proceeding just to our south in the Middle District of Georgia federal court.

The employees were sales representatives who worked in the insurer’s call center in Macon. They alleged that the employer improperly forced them to perform essential job-related tasks before or after hours or during breaks, including booting up and shutting down their computers, responding to emails during meal periods, and staying late if their computer terminals malfunctioned during the day.

Computer Start Up and Shut Down Time May Be Compensable

At least two groups of workers have prevailed in their arguments that the time necessary to start up and shut down computers constitutes compensable time. In 2022, customer service representatives working at a Las Vegas call center scored a victory in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The representatives had to boot up and log in before they could clock in, then had to clock out before they could shut down their terminals each day. The 9th Circuit decided that these computer activities were “indispensable and integral” to the representatives’ work because they could only do their primary job task — namely, take calls — by starting a computer and activating a computer-based “softphone” application.

Earlier, the 10th Circuit reached a similar conclusion in the case of a group of service representatives working for a student lender. The court found that booting up, “entering passwords, and launching software” were indispensable tasks because the computer itself was “an integral tool for the work” the representatives did. The court also ruled that, even though the average start-up time was roughly two minutes, this time was more than de minimis.

Manipulating Workers Into Working After Hours

The insurer company facing the current FLSA lawsuit in the Middle District has also allegedly run afoul of the statute on numerous other recent occasions. Last June, the insurer paid over $800,000 to settle an unpaid overtime lawsuit brought by several of its claims adjusters.

In that lawsuit, the adjusters alleged that the employer, to avoid paying overtime compensation, pressured them to record only 7.75 hours of work every day, regardless of how long they actually worked. Additionally, the employer allegedly had “actual knowledge” that the time records were inaccurate but nevertheless “permitted the adjusters to work over forty hours per week without paying those adjusters proper compensation.”

In April, a group of “Special Investigators” sued for unpaid overtime in federal court in New York. That lawsuit made very similar allegations to the case in Pennsylvania; namely, that the insurer pressured the investigators to record 7.75 hours each day regardless of their actual hours, that the employer knew the time records were inaccurate, and that the employer used the inaccurate records to avoid paying overtime compensation that the adjusters had earned.

According to the lawsuit, the employer manipulated the investigators into underreporting their hours and working off the clock by threatening them with disciplinary action and possible termination if they failed to complete their ever-increasing caseload within 38.75 hours each week.

The ever-increasing ubiquity of electronic devices in every part of people’s lives creates an ever-increasing likelihood that the line between “work time” and “off hours” will become blurrier. This also raises an increased chance of litigation for unpaid hours. If you have questions about what is or is not compensable time, the highly skilled Atlanta wage and hour attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help. We can assist you in analyzing your situation and determining what changes you may need to make. Contact us today at 404-873-8048 or through this website to schedule a consultation.

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