Chicago police officer's lawsuit calls for overtime pay for off-duty Blackberry usage

February 6, 2013 4:23:14 PM PST
A Chicago police officer has filed an overtime pay lawsuit against the city. He wants compensation for the time he does police work on his department-issued Blackberry while at home.

They are our constant companion, but when the work day is done, are you still consumed by a heavy load of work-related calls and e-mails? And how much of your personal time does that eat up?

If you're an hourly employee, should you not get paid overtime for that? What if you worked in the Chicago Police department's Bureau of Organized Crime?

"If they have a half-hour phone call outside of work hours to a superior about a search warrant they're gonna work on the next day, that is something that needs to be paid for," said Paul Geiger, attorney for Sergeant Jeffrey Allen.

Allen is suing the city, contending that he was very frequently "required to use" his department Blackberry when off-duty and that he "was not compensated for it."

Police brass say Blackberries and smartphones are extremely valuable tools. They are on them constantly -- very often on their own time. They don't get OT. But they are exempt employees, unlike Allen and roughly 200 members of the organized crime section who got department Blackberries and are paid by the hour.

"Labor law in the U.S. needs a real housecleaning," said University of Illinois-Chicago labor expert Prof. Robert Bruno.

Bruno says technology is running far ahead of the law, but that there may be merit to Allen's claim that required off-duty Blackberry use may violate the Fair Labor Standards Act.

"It would seem to me that every one of those phone calls is a work-related call and it will add up," said Bruno.

The city says it has "work policies and procedures in place allowing police officers to request overtime," and that this is at best a union grievance, not a federal lawsuit.

"Mayor Daley called my lawsuit silly when it was filed," said Geiger. "The lawsuit is not silly. The lawsuit seeks to enforce the law."

The Allen lawsuit now has a green light to move forward as a class action though it's unclear how many of the roughly 200 Blackberry-issued organized crime officers would join. Nor is there an estimated dollar amount for the OT.

There have been other lawsuits on this issue in the private sector. They have produced some confidential settlements. This case, though, involves public sector employees: cops.