The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines overtime as any time spent working after eight hours a day or forty hours a week. It also requires employers to pay their workers one and one-half times their normal hourly rate for all the overtime they spend working. Some employers maintain agreements with their workers in which, instead of additional wages, the workers are compensated in the form of extra paid time off, which is not always legal.
Most employers are required to compensate their workers for overtime by paying them the premium overtime rate, but there are exceptions to that rule. For example, government employees can legally receive overtime compensation in the form of one and one-half hours of paid time off for every hour of overtime they work. But there is a limit of a total of 480 overtime hours that are eligible for this method of compensation, and once that limit has been reached, the employees must be compensated in the form of additional wages.
According to an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Puerto Rico Police Department was using paid time off to compensate police officers for the overtime they worked, but the department did not pay overtime wages when officers worked more than 480 hours of overtime.
The DOL’s investigation further found the police department had not compensated former police officers for the compensatory time they had built up by the time their employment was terminated. They also did not pay canine officers for the time they spent taking care of dogs for the police department, and did not pay academy cadets the proper compensation for the overtime hours they worked performing activities that were required by the department.
The Puerto Rico Police Department and the DOL have reached a consent judgment in which the police department has agreed to pay more than $8.7 million in unpaid overtime wages to about 2,600 current and former police officers who worked overtime from June 2010 to August 2014. As part of the consent judgment, both the police department and Puerto Rico have agreed not to commit any more violations of the FLSA or to retaliate against employees who bring forth concerns about existing or potential FLSA violations. They have also agreed to start using electronic payroll and recordkeeping systems in order to make sure they maintain accurate records and can be held accountable to their promises to properly compensate all of its workers from now on.
A U.S. District Judge still needs to approve the consent judgment, but once that happens, the Puerto Rico Police Department can start making payments for the back wages it owes to its police officers and set about implementing the new employment and pay practices that will ensure these mistakes will not be made in the future. As soon as the consent judgment has been approved, all current Puerto Rico police officers and academy cadets can start looking forward to receiving fair compensation for all the time they spend working, as required by the FLSA.
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