Policeman Files "BlackBerry Overtime" Lawsuit

It's been discussed for years, so-called "BlackBerry Overtime." It's the concept of employees, saddled with BlackBerrys, working overtime because of responding to emails off-hours. Now a Chicago Police Sergeant is suing the city for overtime back pay.

It's true that nowadays workers seem to be required to check their email after hours, and even on the weekend, whether via their computer and VPN or a smartphone, hence the term "BlackBerry overtime," although nowadays RIM is seeing its market share dissolve with the advent of the iPhone and Android devices such as the Droid X and Evo 4G.

While many may think this malady only affects salaried workers, it's not the case. Hourly workers, who are eligible for overtime, are also saddled with smartphones and email, and that includes the plaintiff in this case, Chicago Police Sgt. Jeffrey Allen. His attorney, Paul Geiger, said:
"What we are saying is he's using this mobile device at the behest of the Police Department very routinely and very often off duty and not being compensated for all the time spent on the device doing the city's work."
Even salaried workers are feeling overburdened by "BlackBerry Overtime." Many have complained that with the advent of such mobile devices, they have no free time at all. Some, when going on vacation, feel it necessary to tell colleagues if they are going to a location that has no cellular service at all.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley scoffed at the lawsuit. He called it "silliness in time of economic crisis. He added, "This is unbelievable. We're public servants. If I asked for that, I'd be paid millions of dollars. We'd have to take all the BlackBerrys away from public servants."

Unfortunately, Daley is salaried, and Allen is paid hourly. The Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs wage and overtime provisions for American workers, is quite clear in this. Non-exempt, i.e. non-salaried employees have to be paid for all the time they work. A few minutes may be OK, but if an employee is checking his smartphone frequently that can add up.

As Allen's attorney Paul Geiger said, there's a simple fix going forward: require hourly BlackBerry users to "log off" after hours. In fact, it could even be done automatically, with software, if required.

You can read the text of the lawsuit here (.PDF).