Overtime Lawsuit Embroils Michigan Department of Corrections: Prison Guards Do Pre and Post Shift Work for Free?

This blog has covered numerous overtime and work and hour cases, many of which involve flagrant and obvious violations of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Laws. Many New York City restaurants, law firms, financial companies and other businesses flout the FLSA and other overtime rules. But the Big Apple is not the only place in the country where such bad behavior occurs.

Consider, for instance, a federal lawsuit filed against the Eastern District of Michigan. The suit — filed on behalf of 35 prison guards (and their union) — alleges that the Michigan Department of Corrections failed to pay prison guards for work they did prior to and after their shifts.

The allegedly unpaid “pre shift” activities include:

• Undergoing uniform inspection;
• Going through security check,
• Testing equipment;
• Getting assignments for the day;
• Getting briefed by guards leaving duty;
The post shift activities include:

• Clocking out;
• Turning in equipment;
• Signing log books;
The Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO) has nearly 7,000 members. The union says their members should have gotten overtime. The Plaintiffs want back wages from the past three years as well as unspecified damages. The suit says that, “despite the fact that the pre shift activities are an integral and indispensible part of the principal employment activity, and that the officers are required to perform such activities under the threat of disciplinary action, [they] are not compensated by the MDOC… [which] willfully, knowingly and recklessly denied overtime compensation.”

The average guard in the suit earns $24 an hour. Given that overtime is time and a half, the average guard should have earned $36 for every extra hour worked, according to MCO’s logic.

An Epidemic of Overtime and Work And Hour Cases?

Putting the MCO case in context leads to interesting insights.

It would one thing if this situation were an aberration. However, the allegations certainly sound like they “rhyme” with allegations many of our plaintiffs have made against their employers in diverse industries in New York and beyond.

While we cannot solve the greater puzzle – why do so many businesses in diverse industries flaunt the FLSA and overtime rules? – we can help you, if you or a loved one has been underpaid at work. Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum today at (212) 688-5640, or e-mail us at info@jhllp.com.