Does your company use computers? Does your company employ individuals to operate those computers? Chances are the answer to each of those questions is yes. If so, your company may be required to pay such employees for time spent logging in or waiting for their computer systems to boot up according to a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

In Cadena v. Customer Connexx LLC, 51 F.4th 831 (9th Cir. 2022), the employer operated a call center that provided customer service and scheduling for an appliance recycling business. The plaintiffs were call center agents who provided customer service and scheduling functions for customers over the phone. At the beginning of their shift, the employees were required to clock in using a computer-based timekeeping system, which had to be done prior to accessing any other computer programs necessary to perform their job duties. According to the employees, the process of turning on the computers, logging in, and opening up the timekeeping system could take anywhere from one to twenty minutes depending on the equipment being used.

The employees alleged they were entitled to overtime pay for the time they spent booting up their computers before logging in to the employer’s timekeeping program and for the time spent turning off the computers after logging out of the program. The employer prohibited its employees from working off the clock and, thus, did not pay them for such time. The Nevada District Court granted summary judgment to the employer, concluding such time was not a compensable preliminary or postliminary activity.

In reversing the District Court, the Ninth Circuit held that the time it took for the call center workers to boot up and log in to their workstations was “integral and indispensable” to the workers’ principal job duties and therefore compensable under the FLSA. The Court held that in order to perform their principal job duties of receiving customer calls and scheduling, the workers had to be logged in and they could not perform such duties without a functional computer. The Court summed up its decision as follows:

All of the employees’ principal duties require the use of a functional computer, so turning on or waking up their computers at the beginning of their shifts is integral and indispensable to their principal activities. Because clocking in to the timekeeping program occurs after booting up the computer—the first principal activity of the day—it is compensable.

The Court also noted that not all required preliminary duties are compensable. Rather, the Court held that where “the required activity bears such a close relationship to the employees’ principal duties that employees cannot eliminate the required activity and still perform their principal duties, the activity is compensable.”

Cases addressing the FLSA are very fact-specific so employers are cautioned against following the Court’s holding in Cadena without consulting with experienced wage and hour counsel. Whether time spent performing activities either before or after what the employer deems to be “working time” can be a complex question that requires individualized analysis.

Source: Written By David Gutwein – McMahon Berger P.C.

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