To me, working time lawsuits are almost the most dangerous for an employer because they often will affect many employees, lending themselves (easily) to a purported class action. A recent case from Illinois again brings to the forefront the thorny issue of when does a preliminary or postliminary activity rise to the level of “working time.” In this case, the focus is on (alleged) mandatory training that the employer did not pay for. The case is entitled Wilhelm v. American Airlines Inc. and was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois.
The named plaintiff alleges that he and other hourly workers, such as fleet service clerks, mechanics, gate agents and cargo workers, were required to take and finish training sessions, called modules, on a quarterly basis. The problem, according to the Plaintiff, is that these training sessions occur after the end of their shifts and after they already have punched out for the day. Thus, the allegation is that the workers were not paid for the time; the claim is that these training modules could take 4-5 hours to complete.
The Complaint alleges that the “defendant regularly fails to pay plaintiff and other hourly employees for the time they spend completing the quarterly training or pays them their regular hourly pay rate rather than an overtime pay rate, even if plaintiff or other hourly employees have already worked over 40 hours that week.” The workers allege also that if they do not complete the training or do not participate in it, they are disciplined and face being fired. Thus, the end result is, allegedly, that employees are working overtime hours without being paid properly.
The named plaintiff alleges that as recently as the end of January, he was directed to complete training courses and was not given compensation for those hours. He seeks a class of all hourly workers who were compelled to take these trainings in the prior three years.
I have said this a hundred times–if there is any element of employer compulsion or mandate in the performance of a preliminary or postliminary duty, that, by itself, virtually converts that time into working time. Now, if one adds to the mix the fact that the training is job-related, then the time is certainly working time. Either make the training voluntary if possible or let the workers take the training during their normal shift time.
Settle this quickly…