(Reuters) – Call center employees who communicated with customers exclusively via computer can seek overtime wages for the time they spent booting up the company’s machines at the start of their shifts, and logging out and shutting down at the end of it, a federal appeals court held Monday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived the action against Customer Connexx LLC and its parent company, Las Vegas-based biotech JanOne Inc, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
A lower-court judge had ruled for the companies last year, calling the computer log-in procedures the “electronic equivalent” of waiting in line to punch on a time clock, which is not compensable under the FLSA.
At the urging of the U.S. Labor Department, which filed an amicus brief in the case, the 9th Circuit focused instead on the fact that the computer system contained “the phone program, scripts, customer information, and email programs” that the workers were required to use on the job.
“Here, the employees’ duties cannot be performed without turning on and booting up their work computers, and having a functioning computer is necessary before employees can receive calls and schedule appointments,” Circuit Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the three-judge panel. “Accordingly, turning on the computers is integral and indispensable to the employees’ duties,” and therefore, compensable under the FLSA.
The 9th Circuit sent the case back to the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas to consider whether time spent waiting for the machine to shut down is also compensable, and to address the companies’ other defenses to liability.
The companies’ attorneys at Jackson Lewis did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Leah Jones of Thierman Buck, an attorney for the workers, said they look forward to litigating the case on remand.
Monday’s decision “clarifies that employers must pay employees for tasks their employees are required to do, and must do, to accomplish their job duties,” Jones said in an email. “Certainly, no employee should have to provide their labor to an employer without receiving proper wages.”
Her clients alleged that, depending on the machine an employee drew on any given day at the Nevada call center, the boot-up/login and logout/shutdown processes could add as much as half an hour to their workday.
In a footnote, the 9th Circuit cautioned that it offered “no opinion” on whether booting up “would be compensable under the FLSA if Appellants worked remotely or used their personal computers to perform these duties.”
The case is Cariene Cadena and Andrew Gonzales, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated v. Customer Connexx; JanOne Inc., et al., 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-16522.
For the workers: Joshua Buck, Mark Thierman, and Leah Jones of Thierman Buck
For Customer Connexx and JanOne: Veronica Hunter and Paul Trimmer of Jackson Lewis
For the U.S. Labor Department: Frances Ma, Office of the Solicitor, Labor Department