One of the biggest threats facing employers is employees performing pre-shift/post-shift work without being paid and then suing, as a class, for that compensation.  This trend is especially prevalent in the customer service/call center sphere where employees must boot up their computers before they start answering calls.  Yet another example of this phenomenon has now occurred.  A group of customer service employees have now sued, asserting this very claim.  The case is entitled Hughes et al. v. DTE Energy and was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan.

The employees claim they were required to boot up and shut down their computers and log into/out of several computer programs.  The named plaintiffs seek to represent all current and former customer service employees.  The employees claim that the supervisors knew the workers were engaging in these pre/post tasks.  They allege that the Company “trained and required its CSRs to complete this unpaid work.”

The plaintiffs have alleged that these start-up tasks were essential to the performance of their main jobs, as they must in these kinds of cases.  They allege that the “defendant required its CSRs to begin work prior to their scheduled shifts and perform a number of off-the-clock tasks that were integral and indispensable to their jobs, including booting up computers, logging into numerous software programs, and logging into phones.”  Additionally, the workers assert that employees “only clocked in and received compensation after this pre-shift work was completed, though they were required to perform this work in order to be ‘ready’ when their scheduled shifts began.”  

The workers also claim they had to perform postliminary off-the-clock work when their shifts ended, but not as much as when their shifts started.  They assert that the logging on process took between 5-15 minutes every day; they had to boot up several operating systems (e.g., Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams) after turning on their computer.

Finally, they claim that they faced disciplinary actions or poor performance write-ups if they were not at their computers at shift start, ready to answer calls, after they performed the preliminary activity.  Their Complaint alleges that “if they didn’t come in early, they were in danger of clocking in late because they could not complete the required pre-shift [work] necessary to be ‘ready’ when their scheduled shifts began.  They charge that if they clocked in late, they would “receive a tardy on their records and poor schedule adherence scores.”

The Takeaway

I don’t understand it.  Maybe it’s me.  I would think, by now, call center or customer service employers would understand, from seeing fifty, or is it one hundred, of these boot-up cases, that these preliminary activities may be so integral to the employees’ work that they rise to the level of “working time.” The better practice is to let workers clock in, give them 5-10 minutes for the boot up process, and avoid liability.

Like I always preach, spend a nickel to save a dollar…