Using Your BlackBerry Off-Hours Could Be Overtime Can't put your BlackBerry down? Your boss may come to dread that if you're working while you're off the clock. A police sergeant in Chicago is suing the city. He says he's due plenty of overtime back pay because he logged in on his BlackBerry to continue working even though his shift was over.
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Using Your BlackBerry Off-Hours Could Be Overtime

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Using Your BlackBerry Off-Hours Could Be Overtime

Using Your BlackBerry Off-Hours Could Be Overtime

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And while we're on the subject of mobile devices and money, let's pose a question: Should you be paid for using a company BlackBerry while youre off the clock?

A police sergeant in Chicago thinks so. He's filed a lawsuit against the city, and says that he's due plenty of overtime back pay because he logged in on his BlackBerry to continue working even though his shift was over.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: Go to any office, any coffee shop, ride a train or take a bus, and you see them employees, eyes glued to those tiny devices in their hands, getting rid of emails or taking care of some other work.

Ms. CATHERINE MERRITT (Ketchum Public Relations): Well, I have a BlackBerry, and I have an iPhone.

CORLEY: Catherine Merritt, who works at Ketchum Public Relations, says her iPhone is personal; the BlackBerry is for work.

Ms. MERRITT: It definitely is a little bit of a Crackberry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: In her office, she was synching up her BlackBerry with her computer so she could check in on work later.

Ms. MERRITT: I dont know that it would extend to hours upon hours. But I think the frequency - you know, I check it at least a few times, probably, an hour.

CORLEY: Often electronic leashes, mobile devices mean work can go on forever.

Zev Salomon, a real estate developer with Belgravia Group, doesnt mind, though. He always carries his BlackBerry - and it has a nickname, too.

Mr. ZEV SALOMON (Belgravia Group): We affectionately refer to it as my Binkie.

CORLEY: You know, like a security blanket. Drives his wife a little crazy but when Salomon goes to sleep, the BlackBerry goes to bed with him, too.

Mr. SALOMON: The ability to continually watch whats coming in, and going on in the various parts of the company, just feels critical.

CORLEY: Salomon says theres no financial compensation, but he thinks being so connected is just part of the world were in.

Maybe so, but Chicago police Sergeant Jeffrey Allen argues his connection means the city of Chicago owes him lots of overtime. His attorney, Paul Geiger, says its a simple case.

Mr. PAUL GEIGER (Attorney): What we are saying is, hes using this mobile device at the behest of the Police Department very routinely, and very often off duty, and not being compensated for all the time spent on the device, doing the citys work.

CORLEY: The city gave Allen a BlackBerry when he worked in a unit determining what assets of criminals police could seize.

Susan Prince, an attorney with Business and Legal Reports, says the deciding factor in this dispute would likely be the Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs wage and overtime provisions for American workers.

Ms. SUSAN PRINCE (Business and Legal Resources): Basically, it comes down to whether an employee is exempt or non-exempt. Exempt employees, they make the same salary no matter how many hours they work during a week, so using a BlackBerry from home at night is not an overtime issue for them. But when youre dealing with non-exempt employees, they have to be paid for all the time they work.

CORLEY: That means hourly workers, like Sergeant Allen, and some salaried ones too, like secretaries. Employees who spend an insignificant amount of time say, two or three minutes of checking email in an evening - don't qualify for overtime. But 10 or 15 minutes a day after work hours, that can add up under the federal law. And it can mean two years of overtime back pay from the date a lawsuit is filed - three years if the employer knew what was going on.

So what does City Hall think about the lawsuit?

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Democrat, Chicago): It's silliness, in time of economic crisis.

CORLEY: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley scoffed at the lawsuit during a press conference on a different subject last month.

Mayor DALEY: This is unbelievable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor DALEY: Were public servants. If I ask for that, Id be paid millions of dollars.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor DALEY: We have to take all the BlackBerries away from public servants.

Mr. SEAN ROGERS (Former D.C. Police Officer): I dont think any mayor would say that anti-discrimination laws are silly. These are similar laws.

CORLEY: Sean Rogers, a former labor relations chief for the IRS and a former D.C. cop, heads an arbitration firm. He says although there have been a few lawsuits like Chicagos filed in the private sector, most settle. Rogers says employers handing out mobile devices dont seem to be focusing on potential costs.

Mr. ROGERS: I had one arbitration that involved 7,000 employees, and it ultimately settled for something over $23 million.

CORLEY: One solution: Only give BlackBerries to employees who don't qualify for overtime. But attorney Paul Geiger says that would leave hourly workers, like Sergeant Allen, out of the loop. What's needed, he says, is a standard policy.

Mr. GEIGER: If they say here, you know, sign for this BlackBerry, here are the BlackBerry rules; rule number one, you do not use this device off duty - game over.

CORLEY: Sergeant Allen works in a police district now, and doesnt have a department BlackBerry. But his lawsuit is not only for him. It seeks overtime pay for other Chicago police officers who also use their BlackBerrys for work while off duty.�

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.�

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