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Workers in early to fire up computers? Pay ’em

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in Human Resources

If employers tell their employees to show up a little early in order to start their computers and get themselves ready to work, that time should be compensated.

That’s true even if the employer doesn’t absolutely demand early arrival, but internal systems make it tough for employees to begin their shifts if they don’t arrive early.

Your best bet to avoid a class-action overtime lawsuit over early-arrival pay: Design a system that allows employees to get their workstations ready at the start of their shifts—or simply start the actual shift a few minutes after paid time begins.

Recent case: Several Quest Communications call center employees sued the company, alleging overtime violations. Their suit sought to represent all other similarly situated employees across the company.

The main claim was that Quest managers either told employees to arrive early so they could start computers and software, or set work objectives so high that employees had to be ready to work the instant their shifts began to meet those goals.

Quest tried to argue that it had a strict policy against off-the-clock work.

But the court said what mattered was what was actually happening and not what employees were told should happen. It ordered a trial. (Burch, et al., v. Quest Communications International, No. 06-3523, DC MN, 2009)

Final notes: Remember that you must pay overtime even if you haven’t asked nonexempt employees to work extra hours. What matters is that they were allowed to work to the company’s benefit.

That’s why you should make it difficult or impossible for employees to work early, late or through their lunch break. You can, for example, require employees to leave their workstations for meals and breaks. You can also discipline employees who work when they are not supposed to—as long as you pay them.

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