EMPLOYMENT LAW … gone mad?

EMPLOYMENT LAW Is booting up a computer work, or a work break? 

The National Law Journal

Tresa Baldas / Staff reporter
November 17, 2008

Is booting up a computer work, or a work break?

More companies fending off suits on the issue.

It seems just about anything in the workplace can find its way into wage-and-hour litigation.

Case in point: Lawyers are noting a new type of lawsuit, in which employees are suing over time spent booting their computers. “Booting” refers to when someone starts or restarts a computer.

During the past year, several companies, including AT&T Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp., have been hit with lawsuits in which employees claimed that they were not paid for the 15- to 30-minute task of booting their computers at the start of each day and logging out at the end.

Add those minutes up over a week, and hourly employees are losing some serious pay, argues plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Thierman, a Las Vegas solo practitioner who has filed a handful of computer-booting lawsuits in recent years.

“These are hourly employees who are not making much more than minimum wage,” Thierman said. “There’s a good half-hour a day that they’re not being paid for. It adds up.”

And it’s not as if these employees are sitting there doing nothing while the computer boots up, Thierman said. They’re either starting paperwork, making calls or arranging their calendar while waiting on the computer.

Management-side attorney Richard Rosenblatt, a partner in the Princeton, N.J., office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who is defending a half-dozen employers in computer-booting lawsuits, sees it differently.

He believes that, in most cases, computer booting does not warrant being called work. Having spent time in call centers observing work behaviors, he said most employees boot the computer, then engage in nonwork activities.

“They go have a smoke, talk to friends, get coffee — they’re not working, and all they’ve done at that point is press a button to power up their computer, or enter in a key word,” Rosenblatt said.

But the lawsuits keep rolling in.

In California, hundreds of customer service representatives at call centers are suing Cigna Corp., claiming that they were denied pay for the time spent booting up computers before and logging out after their shifts at the call centers. Hazel v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., No. C08-03552 (N.D. Calif.).

In Georgia, AT&T and BellSouth Corp. are also battling computer-booting claims, filed by sales consultants and associates who claim, among other things, that they were denied pay for time spent booting up and shutting down computers before and after their shifts. Brooks v. AT&T, No. 1:07-cv-3054 (N.D. Ga.).

In Missouri, UnitedHealth Group also is battling a proposed collective action that claims it failed to pay employees who work from home for time spent booting up their computers. Wolfert v. UnitedHealth Group Inc., No. 4:08-cv-01643 (D. Mo.).

My initial reaction to this story was sheer amazement at the lengths to which employers would go to try and cut the pay of their employees, but on re-reading the story a couple of points caught my attention:

1) The time stated to booting the computers 15-30 minutes, does seem like a long time.
2) The observation made by Richard Rosenblatt regarding the activities of employees while waiting for the computers to boot, he may well be making a valid point.

With the worsening economic climate in the U.S.A. (and globally) it probably shouldn’t come as such a surprise that some employers look to turn the screws on their employees. 

12 thoughts on “EMPLOYMENT LAW … gone mad?

  1. 1) enter office, remove coat, start PC.
    2) go get coffee & snack return to desk
    3) login
    This takes me less than 10 minutes at the start of the day and I am good to go and it is usually in the time before I start, so I can read the news and have my coffee.
    If it takes 30 minutes to boot the PC perhaps they should run adaware and some anti-virus and clean up the crap on it.
    Seems like more BS out of the “rules lawyers”

  2. I wonder how many of these people could just set their computers to start up at a predetermined time like I do. When you get to work, it’s up and running. SInce I sometimes take off with the intention of coming back, but don’t, my computer is set to shut down at a certain time too.

    That time to boot is a good point too, Les. Who’s computer takes 15 minutes to start up?

    I’m assuming these companies keep track of hours by the time the computers are on, which I had to figure out since the last time I had a regular job, I punched a time card. grin

  3. ‘Who’s computer takes 15 minutes to start up?’
    My work computer does and it requires two logins, one for the hard disk encryption and the other to log onto Windows XP. The first login appears within a minute or two of powerup. It takes about 5 minutes from the first login to the windows login and about 10 minutes from there to a point where I can actually start working. And no, there’s no malware on the laptop. It was exactly that slow when I got it with a fresh install. Needles to say, I usually leave the machine on over night.

  4. Man, I am so glad I don’t get paid by the hour…oh wait a minute, let me re-phrase that: Man, I am so glad I don’t get paid for overtime! /sarcasm

    Well, at least my boss trusts me enough to work independently at my desk instead of checking up on me every 20 minutes. I’d never stay at a place that monitored your activities that closely.

  5. This is pretty ridiculous. Companies are penny pinching so much they won’t pay for employees to boot the machines companies give them. WTF!!!!!!!

    If you give them shitty tools then expect shitty work. This is just some bullshit cheap ass management trying to squeeze out a few extra dollars. This is certainly a case where we can thank journalists for breaking the story. People need to hear these things.

  6. Work = Pay.  Simple as that.  Booting a computer falls into that category. 

    If i arrive 5 mins. late for work (witch i never do) they take it off my paycheck.

    Works both ways.

    Ben R.

  7. I read about these lawsuits elsewhere. One bit the article above didn’t mention is that the employees are paid by the hour and the clock-in is done by their PCs—after it’s booted, of course. The suits are the result of the ridiculously increased boot time of Vista compared to XP. The math seems pretty straightforward; a change of the tools provided by their employers means they have to arrive at the workplace n minutes earlier to be paid the same, which adds up over time.

    Call center work doesn’t pay all that well and losing hours because of Vista can make anybody a bit grumpy. I don’t blame them for suing…

  8. They are paid hourly wages and don’t start getting paid until the computer boots.  They have to be there to turn the computer on, and and the computer takes quite a while to boot.  Their time on the clock should start when they perform the first required task, which is to turn on the computer.

  9. Actually, there is a very good reason why these people don’t get paid before they log-in.

    Payroll doesn’t have a record of them being there until they’ve logged in. And they don’t know how long they have been there after they’ve log out.

    The old days of having a mechanical clock to punch in/out on are pretty much gone in computerized workplaces.

    I’m sure employers saw the savings immediately when they switched over to computer based time-tracking methods.

  10. I’m the person who filed against United Health. At the time we had to log onto a VPN which sometimes took as long as 40 minutes because the server was so bad. We also had to bring up and log into several different programs before we started work. We couldn’t go off and do other things because when the VPN connected we had to log in and if we weren’t there it timed out and we’d have to start over. An investigator with the U.S. Dept of Labor came to my house and timed me logging in. We won the lawsuit by the way.

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