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Monitoring computer during lunch not enough to warrant overtime pay

October 1st, 2015  |  Ron Miller

We live in a plugged-in age, so that regardless of where we are or what time of day it is we can be called, texted, paged, twitted, or receive emails on our various communications devises. But, what if an employee responds or is otherwise attentive to these devices in conjunction with performing his work. Does it mean that the employee is entitled to compensation for the time if he or she was supposed on a lunch break? That was the question raised by a group of line technicians in Brand v. Comcast Corp. In Brand, the court agreed with Comcast that it was not enough that the line technicians monitored their communications during what was supposed to be their lunch breaks.

Lunch break work. In contesting the technicians claim that they were entitled to overtime pay for the time spent working during lunch breaks, Comcast argued that there was no evidence it had either actual or constructive knowledge the line technicians were working through lunch without pay. Here, the court determined that the line technicians failed to submit sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact with respect to Comcast’s knowledge regarding unpaid lunch breaks and to allow a reasonable inference regarding the extent of that unpaid time.

The court noted that in the absence of evidence of actual knowledge, the question became whether the technicians’ managers or supervisors “had the opportunity through reasonable diligence to acquire knowledge” that the employees were working through lunch without pay. The technicians asserted that Comcast required them to monitor work devices during lunch breaks, and that this policy demonstrated that it had actual knowledge that they were working through lunch without pay.

However, the court determined that the facts cited by the technicians did not support an assertion that Comcast required them to continually and actively monitor their devices while on break. The court found no smoking gun. Although the technicians sometimes received outage notices via text, email, phone, or radio during lunch, there was no evidence that a manager ever told them they had to watch their computer communications during lunch. Further, there was no blanket policy requiring the technicians to actively monitor devices during lunch break, and to respond immediately to communications regarding outages. Accordingly, the technicians failed to establish that Comcast knew they were working through lunch without pay simply because it knew they occasionally received outage notices during their meal breaks.

Constructive knowledge. With respect to whether Comcast had constructive knowledge of their unpaid overtime, the technicians pointed to a “variety of complaints” they characterized as being about unpaid lunch breaks. However, the court pointed out that none of these anonymous complaints came in to a service manager, the Department of Labor, human resources or the Comcast Helpline. Moreover, none of the complaints involved claims that line technicians were working through lunch or that managers or supervisors knew or should have known that these specific plaintiffs were working through lunch without pay. Thus, the court found that no reasonable jury could conclude Comcast had actual or constructive knowledge that the technicians were working through lunch without pay.