CHICAGO (AP) — Does scanning emails and answering calls from bosses on your smartphone after hours constitute work that should be compensated? A lawsuit winding its way through federal court in Chicago says that it does.
Chicago police Sgt. Jeffrey Allen claims in the suit that the city owes him and fellow officers overtime pay for work performed on department-requisitioned BlackBerry phones. If the plaintiffs eventually prevail, it could mean millions of dollars in back pay.
The issue impacts workers everywhere, Allen's lawyer said Wednesday after a hearing in the case.
"Everybody can relate to this because people are being asked all the time these days to work for free and they are being told to work for free using their phones," attorney Paul Geiger said.
Earlier Wednesday, attorneys for both Allen and the city told a judge they had agreed on the wording of documents that will be sent to other officers asking if they want to join the lawsuit.
According to the suit, police brass pressured subordinates in the department's organized crime bureau to answer work-related calls and emails on their BlackBerrys, and then also dissuaded the officers from filing for overtime.
"A culture has developed where police officers feel compelled to work for free in order to possibly gain a promotion and/or maintain their coveted assignment," according to a plaintiff filing.
The city responded that written policy, on the contrary, specifically instructs officers to ask for overtime. And it argues that Allen lumps together urgent emails with ones that — while sent when he was off duty — could have been responded to the next day.
In a critical ruling in Allen's favor last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier said the plaintiff had demonstrated sufficient merit for the lawsuit to continue. It was initially filed in 2010.