K-9 Police Dog Workers File Suit For Unpaid Overtime

K-9 police officer dog workers have filed suit in federal court demanding overtime pay for their work spent at home training and taking care of the police canines. The case in question, Yuhouse & Wilson v. Borough of Wilikinsburg, brings a long-settled issue of overtime law again into the spotlight and demonstrates how many employers, including state and local governments, still do not take seriously some requirements of federal labor and employment law.
Yuhouse & Wilson v. Borough of Wilikinsburg was filed in federal district court by two police officers at the Wilikinsburg Borough police department who claimed they were not paid overtime by their department for the hours they spent at home cleaning, feeding, training and otherwise caring for their K-9 (canine) police dogs. The issue of paying police officers for the time spent caring for their canine dog workers is a settled issue in federal law, ever since the Supreme Court in their 1985 decision in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority set out the requirement for local governments to pay overtime to their eligible public employees for such use of their time.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, all non-exempt employees are required to be paid time and a half for hours worked more than 40 in a week. In California, the requirement is even more stringent, with all hours worked over 8 in a day requiring overtime as well. For the police officers in Wilikinsburg, as with most overtime cases, the question is not whether they worked more than 40 hours in a week. It was clear from their records that they spent at least 40 hours a week at the job and the time spent with the canines at home added at least 30 minutes to their workday. Instead, the questions are whether the police officers are exempt employees and whether their training, feeding and caring for their canine dogs is properly “work” under the law.
As for the latter question as to whether their training, feeding and caring for their canine dogs was “work,” this issue has been decisively answered in many cases across the country. The training, feeding and cleaning of K-9 dogs is directly related to the work-activities of police officers and essential to their duties. The time spent with their dogs, on average over 30 minutes a day, 7 days a week, is not de minimis and must be compensated as long as the workers are not otherwise exempt from the labor laws.
The first two questions are usually a bit more tricky in an employment law case. That is, whether the workers are exempt from the labor and employment laws in the first place. For the police officers, overtime may be denied to them if they are found either to be exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act or not employees at all. For both cases, police officers have almost uniformly been found to be non-exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act as most do not perform managerial, administrative or executive roles that would bring them out from under the protections of the Act. Police officers are also usually clearly “employees” under the Fair Labor Standards Act and few police departments have been successful in classifying them as exempt independent contractors. So for K-9 police officer workers, they are usually found to be squarely protected by the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act as non-exempt employees performing recognized work for more than 40 hours a week.
The complaint alleges that the police department in Wilikinsburg was well aware of its requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act to pay the police officers for their time taking care of the K-9 police dogs. The police officers even seek punitive damages because they allege the police department’s actions were a “willful” violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Department of Labor has been aggressive in making it clear to police departments that the time officers work with K-9 dogs should be fully paid consistent with the Fair Labor Standards Act. Nevertheless, recent studies have shown that up to 30 percent of police departments are not compliant with this requirement. With this suit and others across the country on the issue, hopefully police departments will be forced to protect and serve their own employees by paying them fairly for their work or pay the price.

In the Media