[COLUMN] Employee’s waiting time to boot up and shut down computer must be paid

AN employer’s policy not to pay call-center employees for time spent booting up and shutting down their employer-provided computers is not lawful.  The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the employer’s contention that booting up and shutting down computers was not part of the employees’ principal duties, as these consist of taking calls and scheduling services for the employer’s customers—so it need not be paid time.

It took as much as 20 minutes to boot up and open the necessary applications at the start of employees’ shifts before they could clock in.  And after clocking out at the end of their shifts, the employees were obliged to wait as much as 15 minutes for the computer to properly shut down.

The call-center employees filed a collective action under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, arguing that they should be paid for their time spent waiting to clock in, as well as time spent waiting for the computer to shut down after clocking out.  The employer asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that they did not hire these call-center employees to turn computers on and off, but rather to provide customer service.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed.  The Court noted the long-settled principle that activities performed before or after a work shift are compensable if they are “an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities for which [workers] are employed.”  As examples, the Court recalled past cases finding that:

(1) time spent, by workers at a battery factory, changing clothes at the beginning of a shift, and showering after, are compensable because of exposure to toxic dust;

(2) time spent on pre-shift knife sharpening by workers at a meatpacking plant were integral  to butchering duties and should be compensated; and

(3) pre-shift time spent by machine operator on oiling, greasing, or cleaning his machine is compensable.

The Court found that the call-center employees, who took customer calls and performed all other customer-service tasks on the employer-provided computers, needed those computers to perform their principal duties. As such, time spent on booting up and shutting down those necessary tools are an integral and indispensable part of their jobs and should be compensated.

On occasions, an employee’s time merely consists of waiting and is not deemed productive by the employer. In those instances, some employers decide not to pay. But if that unproductive time is an integral part of the employee’s duties, or the waiting becomes part of the employer’s control, those times are deemed “work times.”

Thirty minutes of unpaid time may seem little, but spread across months or even years, the amount becomes significant. For all those hours worked, the law and our sense of fairness demands that the employee should be paid.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine for 11 years, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]

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