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Really? You Want to Be PAID too?

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Tampa, FLImagine a scenario whereby a worker sits at his desk and commences work at 9 am, juggling papers and taking calls according to the demands of the job. It’s an important job to the company. The worker bee is diligent, at his desk and ready to go every day at 9. Then he gets his paycheck and notices that he is paid based on a start time of 10 am. “What gives?” Frank asks, when he challenges his boss about the matter. “That’s right Frank, we pay you as starting at 10 am.” Frank shoots back, “Yeah, but I’m here at 9 every day.” Frank’s boss looks away. “That’s correct; we need you here working by 9. That’s your job. But the pay starts at 10…” On the surface it seems like a ridiculous situation. However, it’s not far removed from what plaintiffs in a Customer services Agents Unpaid Wages lawsuit are facing.

SEI, or Sykes Enterprises International, is a major player in the call center business, offering customer support to a wide range of consumers on behalf of various clients. However, the work environment is far removed from the kind of office Beaver Cleaver’s iconic TV dad Ward worked in. Back in the day, setup involved removing the dust cover from your typewriter - a process that took five seconds.

Today, the advent of the Internet and secure servers frees up workers to toil from pretty much anywhere - in an office full of worker bees or at home. And while it might be convenient to work from home in your track pants, the process of booting up and logging in to a myriad of systems before you even start is anything but convenient.

Even worse, as alleged by plaintiffs in a Sykes call center class action, you’re not even paid for it.

That’s one reason why the US Department of Labor issued Fact Sheet 64 several years ago. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees are to be paid from the beginning of the first principal activity.

Here, in fact, is what Fact Sheet 64 actually says…

“Covered employees must be paid for all hours worked in a workweek. In general, ‘hours Worked’ includes all time an employee must be on duty, or on the employer’s premises or at any other prescribed place of work, from the beginning of the first principal activity of the workday to the end of the last principal activity of the workday. Also included is any additional time the employee is allowed (i.e., suffered or permitted) to work. An example of the first principal activity of the day for agents/specialists/representatives working in call centers includes starting the computer to download work instructions, computer applications, and work-related emails.”

But plaintiffs in the off-the-clock wages class action allege this isn’t happening. It can take several minutes to boot up computers, start necessary programs and log in to secure servers. Log-ins serve as a time stamp, which is one way for an employer to track when an employee has started work. But this is a misnomer, because the employee has already spent several minutes just getting to that point.

Worse, the process of logging in or out can occur more than once in a given day, adding to the uncompensated time and the affront to unpaid wages law. Plaintiffs further allege that “the system” automatically clocks them out at the end of a designated shift, regardless of whether or not a call center support representative is actively engaged in a support call.

“Oh, and Frank - we need you to stick around until 5 pm, but we’re only going to pay you until 4:30 pm. Is that okay with you?”

What makes it worse is that Frank is making minimum wage, or close to it. That’s the case for many call center support personnel, a sector comprised largely of unskilled, non-exempt workers earning anywhere from $8 to $11.80 per hour, as the Sykes call center class action so alleges.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. For any call center worker at the lower end of the pay scale referenced in the off-the-clock wages lawsuit - $8 per hour - there’s only 35 cents separating the employee from the federal minimum. Could it be possible that uncompensated work could effectively drop that rate down to minimum or below?

There appears to be a need to design a log-in system that properly tracks an employee’s time from the very start of a principal activity to the very end - as the FLSA requires. Until that happens, imperfect systems seem to rule the day, with low-wage employees paying the price.

Hence the Customer Services Agents Unpaid Wages lawsuit, an action that maybe Frank would be wise to look into…

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