Friday, June 10, 2011

Performing Administrative Tasks Before Work Did Not Make Commuting Time Compensable

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that the district court properly granted an employer summary judgment in a dispute involving whether an employee should have been compensated for his commuting time. However, the court ruled that the employee may pursue his claim that he should have been compensated for overtime that he allegedly worked [Kuebel v. Black & Decker, Inc., CA2, Dkt. No. 10-2273-cv, 5/5/11].

The facts. Greg Kuebel was employed by Black & Decker, Inc. as a retail specialist. His primary job duty was to ensure that Black & Decker products were properly stocked, priced, and displayed at six Home Depot stores. Kuebel also performed some tasks at home, such as reading and responding to company e-mails, checking voice mail, reviewing sales reports, organizing materials, and taking online training courses. In addition, he was required to electronically transmit to Black & Decker the amount of time that he worked each day using a company-issued personal digital assistant (PDA) that Kuebel had attached to his home computer.

Kuebel testified that it took him 30 minutes to an hour to complete these at-home activities — 15 to 30 minutes in the morning, before driving to his first Home Depot store of the day, and 15 to 30 minutes in the evening, after returning home from his last store. Kuebel argued that he was entitled to compensation under the Department of Labor's (DOL) “continuous workday” rule for all of his commuting time because the administrative tasks he performed at home were integral and indispensable to his principal job activities, and, therefore, his workday began and ended at home and encompassed his morning and evening drives between home and the Home Depot store. Kuebel also believed that he was entitled to overtime for hours that he worked over 40 in a week but did not report on his timesheet.

Commuting time. The Second Circuit said that it did not need to decide whether the district court correctly determined that, as a matter of law, the administrative tasks Kuebel performed at home were integral and indispensable to his principal job activities, because even if those tasks do qualify as integral and indispensable, they do not affect the compensability of Kuebel's driving time. The general rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has always been that ordinary home-to-job-site travel is not compensable. The court noted that the regulations (i.e., 29 CFR 785.35 ) have reflected this fact for at least 50 years, stating that “normal travel from home to work is not worktime.” The court said that the fact that Kuebel performed some administrative tasks at home, on his own schedule, “does not make his commute time compensable any more than it makes his sleep time or his dinner time compensable.”

Unreported time. The Second Circuit did allow Kuebel to pursue his claim that he should have been compensated for overtime that he allegedly worked, even though he did not report this time on his timesheets. The Second Circuit reached this conclusion based on Kuebel's testimony that he falsified his timesheets because his supervisors instructed him not to record more than 40 hours per week. The district court had granted summary judgment to Black & Decker on this issue, based on the fact that Kuebel was responsible for filling out his own timesheets, and he had admittedly falsified them. However, the Second Circuit said that an employer shouldn't be exonerated in a situation where an employee physically entered the erroneous hours into his timesheets if the falsifications were carried out at the instruction of the employer or the employer's agents. The Second Circuit acknowledged that Kuebel's testimony might ultimately be discredited, but that determination should be made during a trial, rather than during a summary judgment hearing.

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