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The time a group of call center workers spent booting up their computers is inextricably intertwined with their work and therefore compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Ninth Circuit ruled this week, overturning a win a district court handed to their employer, and joining sister circuits who have reached a similar conclusion.
In a unanimous published decision, the Ninth Circuit reversed a Nevada district court’s 2021 decision which had granted call center employer Customer Connexx LLC summary judgment on the workers’ overtime suit, reasoning that the workers needed to have a functional computer in order to do their jobs. Thus, the panel concluded that the time the call center workers spent booting up the computers is compensable under the Portal-to-Portal Act.
“The employees’ duties cannot be performed without turning on and booting up their work computers, and having a functioning computer is necessary before employees can receive calls and schedule appointments,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee wrote on behalf of the panel.
Under the Portal-to-Portal Act, which amended the FLSA, employers are not required to pay for time workers spend traveling to and from the place of principal work activities or for time they spend on certain preliminary or postliminary activities which are not integral to their work.
Here, the workers sued in 2018, alleging that Connexx, failed to pay them overtime as required by the FLSA and Nevada law, because they failed to track and compensate them for the time they spent booting up and turning off their computers after they logged into and out of the company’s timekeeping system.
The district court granted Connexx summary judgment in July 2021, finding that the tasks the workers completed before and after they logged out of the company’s timekeeping system were not compensable preliminary and postliminary activities because they did not meet the legal standard to be considered part of their jobs.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed and reversed, saying the district court erred in focusing its reasoning on whether the activities were essential to the workers’ jobs and should have instead put emphasis on whether starting the computer led the call center workers to be able to perform their work. Discussing the issue, the Court explained:
When the employees’ duties are understood in this way, the electronic timekeeping system becomes a red herring. It is a convenience to the employer… It has no impact on the ‘integral and indispensable’ analysis except to show us when Connexx began counting the employees’ time.
Because the workers needed to have “a functional computer … turning on or waking up their computers at the beginning of their shifts is integral and indispensable to their principal activities,” the panel concluded.
The Ninth Circuit also rejected Connexx’s argument that the district court’s decision should be affirmed because the pre-shift time was de minimis and because the company was not aware of the alleged overtime, noting that those are “factual questions” that the lower court didn’t address, and thus not properly before it.
Of note, the panel clarified in a footnote that its opinion focused on the pre-shift activities, and stated that its opinion should not be read to hold that turning the computers off was an integral part of the workers’ jobs.
The Department of Labor had filed an amicus brief in support of the workers, in which it argued the time at issue was compensable under the FLSA, because the workers could not do their jobs without booting up the computers.
Click Cadena v. Customer Connexx LLC to read the entire decision.
*** Andrew Frisch and Morgan & Morgan are actively handling and investigating similar cases on behalf of call center workers. If you believe your call center employer is not paying you for all time worked, contact us for a free consultation at (888) OVERTIME [888-683-7846] today. ***
D.Md.: Loading/Unloading of Materials Could Be Deemed “Integral and Indispensable” for Fire Protection Services; DMSJ Denied
Ross v. Wolf Fire Protection, Inc.
Plaintiffs, employees who installed fire protection services (sprinklers) on behalf of their employer, filed this lawsuit claiming that Defendant failed to pay them for all of their compensable work time. Specifically, Plaintiffs asserted that Defendant improperly failed to start their work day each day when they were required to come to Defendant’s facility to pick up expensive tools necessary for their work and load Defendant’s trucks. Similarly, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant failed to properly pay them for time spent when they were required to return such tools (and work vehicles) to Defendant’s facility at the end of each work day. The Defendant argued that such time was precluded by the Portal-to-Portal Act, and in any event was de minimus such that it was not compensable time. The court held that the facts could support a finding that such time was “integral and indispensable” to their work, thus making it potentially compensable. As such, it denied Defendant’s motion.
Rejecting Defendant’s contentions, the court reasoned:
“The Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs “have never been instructed or directed to come to the [warehouse] before the start of the workday or at the end of the workday to pick up or drop off tools,” so loading of equipment at the warehouse cannot be an integral and indispensable part of their jobs. Defs.’ Mot. 7. The Plaintiffs contend that loading the equipment was integral because the equipment was necessary to installing sprinkler systems, and the Defendants required that they pick up the equipment at the warehouse. Pl.’s Opp’n 2–4.
An activity is “integral and indispensable” to the employee’s principal activities if it is “(1) necessary to the principal work performed and (2) done for the benefit of the employer.” Perez, 601 F.Supp.2d at 676 (citing Alvarez v. IBP, Inc., 399 F.3d 894, 902–03 (9th Cir.2003)).
The parties do not dispute that the Plaintiffs’ principal work was sprinkler system installation. See Defs.’ Mot. 6; Pls.’ Opp’n 2. Phillips’s affidavit is that the equipment he loaded and unloaded included items “necessary” to installing the sprinkler systems, such as the sprinkler heads, and because this equipment was expensive, Fire Protection “did not want [it] delivered directly to the job site” and “required [employees] to pick the[ ] [equipment] up at the warehouse, sign for [it], and account for [it].” Phillips Aff. ¶ 9.
From the evidence in Phillips’s affidavit, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Phillips needed the equipment loaded at the warehouse to complete his job (the first part of the “integral and indispensable” inquiry). From his testimony that Fire Protection did not want expensive items delivered directly to the job sites, and required that the pipefitters pick up and sign for the equipment, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the loading and unloading was “done for the benefit of the employer.” It is genuinely disputed whether Fire Protection required the plaintiffs to load and unload equipment, and whether the loading and unloading was “integral” to their “principal activity” requiring compensation under the FLSA.”
Rejecting Defendant’s contention that Plaintiffs were not entitled to be paid for travel time, the court explained:
“The Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs’ “voluntary carpooling” while “transporting tools, equipment and supplies” is not compensable under the FLSA. Defs.’ Reply 4. The Plaintiffs contend that because their workday started with loading the trucks at the warehouse, they must be compensated for all subsequent travel time within the workday. Pls.’ Opp’n 3–5.
The Portal–to–Portal Act did not change the “continuous workday” rule that “any walking, riding, or traveling time that occurs after the beginning of the employee’s first principal activity and before the end of the employee’s last principal activity … is covered by the FLSA.” Epps, 2011 WL 1566004, at *5 (internal quotation marks omitted). Applicable regulations provide that:
Time spent by an employee in travel as part of his principal activity, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday must be counted as hours worked. Where an employee is required to report to a meeting place … to pick up and to carry tools, the travel from the designated place to the work place is part of the day’s work, and must be counted as hours worked regardless of contract, custom, or practice. 29 C.F.R. § 785.38.
As discussed above, Phillips’s affidavit that Fire Protection required him to report to the warehouse to load and sign out expensive equipment Fire Protection did not want delivered directly to the job site creates a genuine dispute whether the loading and unloading was a principal activity. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, it also creates a genuine dispute about whether travel from the warehouse to the job site and the return to the warehouse at the end of the day are “part of the day’s work” requiring compensation under the FLSA. The Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the Plaintiffs’ FLSA unpaid wages claim will be denied.”
The issues discussed in this case are far from unique in the work world. However, many employers continue to violate the law, assuming that they need only pay employees for time spent at customer work sites, where the employer is profiting from the employees’ work. This case serves as a reminder that this is a misconception of the law.
Click Ross v. Wolf Fire Protection, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum and Opinion.
9th Cir.: While Home Data Transmissions Taking 15 Minutes Are Not De Minimis, Because Workers Are Completely Relieved Of Duty Between Finishing Work And Performing The Transmissions, They Are Not Part Of The Continuous Workday
Rutti v. Lojack Corp., Inc.
The district court granted Lojack summary judgment, holding that Rutti’s commute was not compensable as a matter of law and that the preliminary and postliminary activities were not compensable because they either were not integral to Rutti’s principal activities or consumed a de minimis amount of time. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of compensation under federal law for Rutti’s commute and for his preliminary activities. However, they vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Rutti’s claim for compensation of his commute under California law and on his postliminary activity of required daily portable data transmissions. It is compensability of the postliminary portable data transmissions that is discussed here.
Discussing the claim it revived, the Court stated, “Lojack requires that Rutti, after he completes his last job for the day and goes ‘off-the-clock,’ return home and send a PDT transmission to Lojack using a modem provided by Lojack. The transmissions have to be made every day as they provide Lojack with information concerning all the jobs its technicians perform during the day. The transmissions appear to be ‘part of the regular work of the employees in the ordinary course of business,’ and are ‘necessary to the business and [are] performed by the employees, primarily for the benefit of the employer, in the ordinary course of that business.’ Dunlop, 527 F.2d at 401. Accordingly, at least on summary judgment, the district court could not determine that this activity was not integral to the Rutti’s principal activities.
Lojack might still be entitled to summary judgment, if it could be determined that this postliminary activity was clearly de minimis. The evidence before the district court, however, does not compel such a conclusion. The fact that several technicians testified that they spent no more than five to ten minutes a night on PDT transmissions might appear to give rise to a presumption that an activity is de minimis, see Lindow, 738 F.2d at 1062, but such a conclusion is neither factually nor legally compelling.
It is not factually compelling because, although it may take only five to ten minutes to initiate and send the PDT transmission, the record shows that the employee is required to come back and check to see that the transmission was successful, and if not, send it again. There is also evidence in the record that there are frequent transmission failures. Accordingly, the record does not compel a finding that the daily transmission of the record of the day’s jobs takes less than ten minutes.
Furthermore, we have not adopted a ten or fifteen minute de minimis rule. Although we noted in Lindow, that “most courts have found daily periods of approximately 10 minutes de minimis even though otherwise compensable,” we went on to hold that “[t]here is no precise amount of time that may be denied compensation as de minimis ” and that “[n]o rigid rule can be applied with mathematical certainty.” 738 F.2d at 1062. The panel went on to set forth a three-prong standard, which would have been unnecessary if the panel had intended to adopt a ten or fifteen minute rule.
The application of this three-prong test to the facts in this case do not compel a conclusion that the PDT transmissions are de minimis. The first prong, “the practical administrative difficulty of recording the additional time,” id. at 1063, is closely balanced in this case. Certainly, it is difficult to determine exactly how much time each technician spends daily on the PDT transmissions. It is also not clear what activities should be covered. Is the time when the technician comes back to check to see if the transmission was successful included? When a technician is waiting until ten minutes after the hour, is he “engaged to wait” or “waiting to be engaged?” See Owens, 971 F.2d at 350. Although it may be difficult to determine the actual time a technician takes to complete the PDT transmissions, it may be possible to reasonably determine or estimate the average time. For example, there is evidence in the record that Lojack had agreed to pay one technician an extra 15 minutes a day to cover the time spent on PDT transmissions. In sum, the inherent difficulty of recording the actual time spent on a particular PDT transmission does not necessarily bar a determination that the PDT transmissions are not de minimis. See Reich v. Monfort, Inc., 144 F.3d 1329, 1334 (10th Cir.1998) (holding that the time it took meat packers to don and shed their employer-mandated clothing was not de minimis even though “the practical difficulty of supervising and recording the additional time weighs in favor of finding it noncompensable”).
The other two prongs, “the aggregate amount of compensable time,” and “the regularity of the additional work,” Lindow, 738 F.2d at 1063, favor Rutti. Rutti asserts that the transmissions take about 15 minutes a day. This is over an hour a week. For many employees, this is a significant amount of time and money. Also, the transmissions must be made at the end of every work day, and appear to be a requirement of a technician’s employment. This suggests that the transmission “are performed as part of the regular work of the employees in the ordinary course of business,” Dunlop, 527 F.2d at 401, and accordingly, unless the amount of time approaches what the Supreme Court termed “split-second absurdities,” the technician should be compensated. See Anderson, 328 U.S. at 692.
Our review of the record suggests that the PDT transmissions are an integral part of Rutti’s principal activities and that there are material issues of fact as to whether the PDT transmissions are de minimis. Accordingly, the grant of summary judgment in favor of Lojack on Rutti’s claim for the transmissions must be vacated. See Balint v. Carson City, Nev., 180 F.3d 1047, 1054 (9th Cir.1999) (holding that in reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we do “not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter, but only determines whether there is a genuine issue for trial”). This does not mean that on remand, Lojack may not be able to make a persuasive factual showing for summary judgment under the standard clarified in this opinion. We, however, decline to make such a decision in the first instance.”
The Court then turned to Plaintiff-Appellant’s argument that the compensability of the work necessarily made postliminary commute time compensable under the “continuous workday” rule. Rejecting this argument, the Court explained:
“Finally, Rutti argues that under the continuous workday doctrine, because his work begins and ends at home, he is entitled to compensation for his travel time, citing Dooley v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 307 F.Supp.2d 234 (D.Mass.2004). In Dooley, automobile damage appraisers sought compensation for the time they spent traveling from their offices in their homes to locations where they inspected damaged cars. Id. at 239. The district court first determined that the work the appraisers undertook at home constituted principal activities. Id. at 242. The court then determined that compensation was not prohibited by the Portal-to-Portal Act, and concluded that those appraisers who could show that they performed work at home before or after their daily appraisals were entitled to compensation. Id. at 249.
Even were we to adopt the continuous workday doctrine set forth in Dooley, Rutti would not be entitled to compensation for his travel time to and from the job sites. We have already determined that Rutti’s preliminary activities that are not related to his commute are either not principal activities or are de minimis. Accordingly, his situation is not analogous to the situation in Dooley. See 307 F.Supp.2d at 245 (“The first and last trip of the day for these appraisers is not a commute in the ordinary sense of the word-it is a trip between their office, where their administrative work is performed, and an off-site location.”).
Our determination that Rutti’s postliminary activity, the PDT transmission, is integrally related to Rutti’s principal activities might support the extension of his work day through his travel back to his residence, were it not for 29 C.F.R. § 785.16. This regulation provides that “[p]eriods during which an employee is completely relieved from duty and which are long enough to enable him to use the time effectively for his own purposes are not hours worked.” Lojack allows a technician to make the transmissions at any time between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Thus, from the moment a technician completes his last installation of the day, he “is completely relieved from duty.” His only restriction is that sometime during the night he must complete the PDT transmission. Because he has hours, not minutes, in which to complete this task, the intervening time is “long enough to enable him to use the time effectively for his own purpose.” See Mireles v. Frio Foods, Inc., 899 F.2d 1407, 1413 (5th Cir.1990) (holding that waiting time “greater than forty-five minutes are not compensable because Plaintiffs were not required to remain on Defendant’s premises during such periods and could use such periods effectively for their own purposes”). Rutti has not shown that the district court erred in determining that neither his preliminary nor postliminary activities extended his workday under the continuous workday doctrine.”