Technology has been wonderful for productivity. But cell phones and laptops have created one big pain for employers: determining when an employee’s personal time crosses into work time for compensation purposes.
When Frank Brown was fired from ScriptPro, a pharmacy automation company, he sued claiming it had violated the FLSA by not paying him overtime for the hours he’d worked from home.
This type of lawsuit is becoming more common as hourly employees check work email from home, either from a computer or mobile device, and answer work-related phone calls after hours on company provided cell phones.
According to federal law, if the work is not “de minimis,” the employee must be compensated for it.
(Note: Brown’s lawsuit also had a very interesting FMLA component to it, which we covered previously.)
Failed to use time-keeping system
The burden of proof rests on employees to show the amount of time they put in while off site. And that burden is only relaxed when it can be proven that their employer has failed to keep accurate records.
In ScriptPro’s case, the company had installed an automated time-keeping system, which employees were required to access from home to enter their hours worked.
Brown, however, had failed to use the system, making this a pretty cut-and-dried case for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
It ruled that since ScriptPro was found to keep accurate records, as was proven by their requirement that employees off site use the automated system. Therefore, the burden of proof rested with Brown to show how much overtime he’d actually worked.
Brown was able to produce a few statements from his wife and supervisors that he did actually perform work off site. But no one could specify how many hours he’d actually worked.
As a result, the court threw out his FLSA suit.
Blueprint laid out for other employers
The gift for employers from this case: The court essentially said that employers are shielded from workers’ FLSA overtime claims when they have an automated time-keeping system in place that workers fail to utilize.
So it may behoove employers with off-site, hourly workers to install time-keeping systems that employees can access remotely. It could eliminate any hassles or questions about whether an employee’s use of a cell phone or computer off site is actually for work and should be compensated.
The only downside is that some safeguards will have to be put in place to ensure employees are accurate and honest in the time they enter.
Cite: Brown v. ScriptPro, LLC