Chicago police sue for email overtime pay

Hundreds of officers may join a sergeant in a lawsuit seeking pay for off-hours messages from bosses.

By Jason Notte Feb 7, 2013 4:49PM
Image: Worried Man ( John Howard/Getty Images/Getty Images)If you wish your boss and co-workers would stop emailing you long enough to enjoy dinner or go to the bathroom in peace, don't worry: Hundreds of Chicago cops have your back.

Chicago police Sgt. Jeffrey Allen filed a lawsuit in 2010 claiming that the city owes him and fellow officers overtime pay for work performed on department BlackBerry phones.

Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier said the plaintiff had demonstrated sufficient merit for the lawsuit to continue and, on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that attorneys for both Allen and the city told a judge they had agreed on the wording of documents that will be sent to other officers asking if they want to join the lawsuit.

Up to 200 other officers are expected to join the suit and turn in thousands of email and phone records to see which qualify for overtime pay. Depending on how conservatively each officer deleted those messages, it could result in millions of dollars in back pay.

This has obvious and broad-reaching ramifications for any hourly employee and any employer who wants to keep them on electronic tethers without making them salaried staffers. Granted, Judge Schenkier said it still needs to be determined whether or not answering calls or scanning emails can be defined as work, but there's a lot riding on Allen's lawyers' arguments on that point.

"Everybody can relate to this because people are being asked all the time these days to work for free and they are being told to work for free using their phones," Allen's attorney Paul Geiger said.

There are just a few problems with this suit. First off, it involves the city's organized crime bureau, which is pretty much always on call in a traditionally mobbed-up, gang-heavy city like Chicago. Secondly, despite the officer's claims that he and his colleagues were dissuaded from using overtime, the city claims that Allen's disputed emails are a mishmash of urgent messages and items that could have waited until he went back on shift. Former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called the suit “silliness” when it was introduced three years ago.

It's getting fewer chuckles now that it's advanced this far. While there's no precedent for e-overtime on this scale here in the U.S., Brazil decided last year that employees aren't limitless resources and ruled that any e-mails they receive after work hours constitute overtime.

It's easier to laugh this kind of labor dispute off in a jobless recession, but taking liberties with the workforce is much tougher once the recovery begins. When everyone starts feeling less like survival-programmed drones and more like humans, they tend to want to be treated as such.

More on moneyNOW

Feb 7, 2013 6:53PM
Pay the cops for e-mail reading, but not until the cops pay back the time they spent asleep in their cruisers.
Feb 7, 2013 7:40PM
Just another reason thugocracy unions need to be abolished in the United States.

All police officer's should be salaried employees, no exceptions: no hourly pay with no overtime.

That will end the overtime debate once and for all.
Feb 7, 2013 7:22PM
If they stopped reading emails and actually went to the streets perhaps they wouldn't be the murder capital of the world.
Feb 7, 2013 7:35PM
If they are required to check all emails, texts, and calls then pay them.  My boyfriend's work pays $50 a month towards his phone so that he's on call, which isn't often.  If he gets called he fills out a form next time he's at work and gets paid for his time, for no less than 15 minutes for each call.  If he has to go into work his pay starts from the time he gets the call till he gets back home after going in and we live 45 minutes from his work. 
Feb 8, 2013 1:56PM
Cops in Chicago !! who knew they existed . The complaint sounds like a cop out.
Feb 8, 2013 8:35AM
This is another example of frivolous lawsuit made by a money hungry lawyer.  If your boss needs to get a hold of you for something after hours, I am sure it is a very urgent matter.  So let me ask you this.  If this urgent matter does not get resolved, your boss will cancel your working hours the following day, is it ok to you?  Your boss has right to do it.  And also, the urgent matter is URGENT.  Unless the cop can prove that his boss has been bothering him with trivial matter after hours, the Chicago Police Department should file a counter suit for defamation or some sort.  Everyone is looking for cheap money and this culture has to stop.  If this cop was found using his blackberry for personal use during office hours, then he should pay back not only the time but also the damage that the personal use may have caused to the public such as not getting to crime scene on time.  Stop scamming taxpayer's money.
Feb 8, 2013 9:54AM
No problem. Employers should pay the cops and all workers for any work-related phone calls, emails. texts. etc when they are off the clock.

HOWEVER, to be fair, employers should dock the pay of cops and all workers for any personal phone calls, emails, texts, web surfing, etc when they are on the clock.

I think you'll find instead of millions of dollars in back-pay, you'll have millions of dollars in over-pay.

Feb 7, 2013 8:09PM
They can't type and eat a donut at the same time ?
Feb 7, 2013 7:41PM
I have to agree here with the officers.  I give my boss a hard time all the time when he calls me on my cell phone instead of my land line.Sometimes he calls me on my cell when I am sitting at my work desk.( when he is usually out of the office) I pay for my own cell phone it is not a company issued cell phone.Yet I am expected to supply this number in case of emergencies.Where will it end?
Feb 7, 2013 7:14PM
Really?  Use the 'off' feature.  Hard to imagine, but it exists.  Eat in peace....go to the bathroom in peace...sheesh.
Feb 8, 2013 12:58AM
Any private sector worker who can decide when to take a pooty break is "exempt" ineligible for ANY OVERTIME, and expected to work minimum of 60 hrs/wk, and likely be connected 24/7, preferably on the smart phone employee, not employer pays for.  These MUST be Obama's people!  Daily entrusted to make life and death decisions and administer all the laws of the land, unsupervised, yet trying to get not just OT for hours sleeping in the luxury cruiser, but even email time.  Aren't they happy with the pension and medical after 20 years, that the rest of us will never see?  Is that a tiny violin?
Feb 8, 2013 6:40PM
Payed for reading e-mails what a joke ... ssssssssssssssshhhhh
Feb 7, 2013 8:24PM

If your boss needs to contact you and discuss work issues than I consider it work related. i used to carry two phones at work. one work phone that they paid for and one for me. Anything work related was on company phone. But you need to make sure all numbers are work related only on work phone. oother wise you are using work phone for personal and that is not right.. that way there is a record of how much a person actually worked in excess of work agreement. Even salaried persons are entilted to overtime. you  just need to have it put in any work agreement that is made. Case solved. No need to make a big deal out of it. Everyone needs to follow the work contract. its what you agreed to. The big thing to remember is that a contract only has two parts. Offer and Acceptance.

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