Wage and Hour Issues

June 7, 2006

We thought the following legal developments regarding wage and hour issues would be of interest.
I. Sehie v. City of Aurora, Case No. 04-2308 (U.S. Dis. Ct. of N. Dis. of Ill.):
In this case, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois concluded that the time an employee spends attending and traveling to and from counseling sessions, that are required by an employer, are compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the following reasons:

Attendance at the sessions was a mandatory condition of the employee’s continued employment. This requirement, combined with the fact that the employer was short of telecommunications staff, created a strong presumption that the counseling sessions were for the employer’s benefit;
The employer would not let the employee see her own therapist, with whom she had a prior medical relationship. This requirement appeared odd if the employer’s position was truly that the counseling sessions were for the employee’s benefit and not the employer’s benefit;
The employer paid 90% of the cost of each counseling session, which again indicated the employer expected a return from the counseling sessions; and
The evidence demonstrated the purpose of the counseling sessions was to enable the employee to perform her job duties and relate to coworkers more effectively and at a higher skill level by addressing what was termed as “personality deficiencies and problems.”

II. Copelade v. ABB, Inc., Case No. 04-4725 CV C Nkl (W.D. Missouri, 2/7/06):
In this case, the U.S. District Court for Western Missouri held that only in cases where an employer directs an employee to attend a follow up medical appointment for work-related injury is the time spent at the appointment compensable. In cases where the employer merely acquiesces or simply approves the time off for the appointment, the employer is not liable for compensating the employee.
In this matter, current and former hourly employees sued ABB. They claimed that ABB violated the FLSA because it required them to use paid vacation benefits when they attended follow up medical appointments for work-related injuries. When an ABB employee was injured on the job, the employee notified ABB, which then paid the employee for any treatment received on the same day as the injury, and did not deduct any benefits for time missed on the day of the injury. If the employee needed follow up medical care that required the employee to miss work during a regularly scheduled work day, ABB paid the employee for the time missed and deducted the amount of time missed from the employee’s accrued vacation benefits. In their lawsuit, the employees claimed that ABB’s requirement they use their paid vacation benefits when they attended follow up medical appointments for work-related injuries violated the FLSA.
The District Court found that the employees may be correct the practice of forcing them to use vacation time was unfair; however, the Court could find no provision of the FLSA or any other authority that required the employees to be treated fairly. The Court stated “in contrast, the FLSA does not even contain a suggestion that it was intended to prohibit a requirement that employees use their vacation to get medical care for work-related injuries.” Thus, because all the employees conceded they were paid for their follow up appointments (with the exception of one worker), the District Court dismissed the employees’ claims.
The above cases highlight that employers must exercise caution when directing employees to seek counseling or medical care. Depending upon the facts of the particular matter, an employer could be required by law to compensate the employee for the time attending the appointment and traveling to and from the appointment.
If you have questions regarding the above, please contact any of the attorneys in the Employment, Benefits & Labor Relations Practice Group of Ruder Ware.

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