EMPLOYMENT LAW Is booting up a computer work, or a work break?
The National Law Journal
Tresa Baldas / Staff reporter
November 17, 2008
Is booting up a computer work, or a work break?
More companies fending off suits on the issue.
It seems just about anything in the workplace can find its way into wage-and-hour litigation.
Case in point: Lawyers are noting a new type of lawsuit, in which employees are suing over time spent booting their computers. “Booting” refers to when someone starts or restarts a computer.
During the past year, several companies, including AT&T Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp., have been hit with lawsuits in which employees claimed that they were not paid for the 15- to 30-minute task of booting their computers at the start of each day and logging out at the end.
Add those minutes up over a week, and hourly employees are losing some serious pay, argues plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Thierman, a Las Vegas solo practitioner who has filed a handful of computer-booting lawsuits in recent years.
“These are hourly employees who are not making much more than minimum wage,” Thierman said. “There’s a good half-hour a day that they’re not being paid for. It adds up.”
And it’s not as if these employees are sitting there doing nothing while the computer boots up, Thierman said. They’re either starting paperwork, making calls or arranging their calendar while waiting on the computer.
Management-side attorney Richard Rosenblatt, a partner in the Princeton, N.J., office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who is defending a half-dozen employers in computer-booting lawsuits, sees it differently.
He believes that, in most cases, computer booting does not warrant being called work. Having spent time in call centers observing work behaviors, he said most employees boot the computer, then engage in nonwork activities.
“They go have a smoke, talk to friends, get coffee — they’re not working, and all they’ve done at that point is press a button to power up their computer, or enter in a key word,” Rosenblatt said.
But the lawsuits keep rolling in.
In California, hundreds of customer service representatives at call centers are suing Cigna Corp., claiming that they were denied pay for the time spent booting up computers before and logging out after their shifts at the call centers. Hazel v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., No. C08-03552 (N.D. Calif.).
In Georgia, AT&T and BellSouth Corp. are also battling computer-booting claims, filed by sales consultants and associates who claim, among other things, that they were denied pay for time spent booting up and shutting down computers before and after their shifts. Brooks v. AT&T, No. 1:07-cv-3054 (N.D. Ga.).
In Missouri, UnitedHealth Group also is battling a proposed collective action that claims it failed to pay employees who work from home for time spent booting up their computers. Wolfert v. UnitedHealth Group Inc., No. 4:08-cv-01643 (D. Mo.).
My initial reaction to this story was sheer amazement at the lengths to which employers would go to try and cut the pay of their employees, but on re-reading the story a couple of points caught my attention:
1) The time stated to booting the computers 15-30 minutes, does seem like a long time.
2) The observation made by Richard Rosenblatt regarding the activities of employees while waiting for the computers to boot, he may well be making a valid point.
With the worsening economic climate in the U.S.A. (and globally) it probably shouldn’t come as such a surprise that some employers look to turn the screws on their employees.