Are Call Center Employees Covered Under The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) ?

What is a call center?

A call center is a central customer service operation where agents (often called customer care specialists or customer service representatives) handle telephone calls for their company or on behalf of a client. Clients may include mail-order catalog houses, telemarketing companies, computer product help desks, banks, financial services and insurance groups, transportation and freight handling firms, hotels, and information technology (IT) companies.

What are the requirements for a call center to be covered by the FLSA?

If the annual dollar volume of a call center’s sales or business is $500,000 or more, and the enterprise has at least two employees, all employees of the enterprise are covered by the FLSA on an “enterprise” basis. An enterprise may consist of one establishment, or it may be made up of multiple establishments.  Additionally, the FLSA also provides an “individual employee” basis of coverage. If the gross sales or volume of business done does not meet the requisite dollar volume of $500,000 annually, employees may still be covered if they individually engage in interstate commerce, the production of goods for interstate commerce, or in an occupation closely related and directly essential to such production. Interstate commerce includes such activities as transacting business via interstate telephone calls, the Internet or the U.S. Mail (such as handling insurance claims), ordering or receiving goods from an out-of-state supplier, or handling the accounting or bookkeeping for such activities.

Do call center employees qualify for overtime pay under the FLSA ?

Yes, in most cases. Covered nonexempt employees are entitled to be paid at least the federal minimum wage as well as overtime pay at time and one-half their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. (This may not apply to certain executive, administrative, and professional employees, including computer professionals and outside sales people).

What are some typical problems that happen at call centers?

Hours Worked:  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.

Rest and Meal Periods: Rest periods of short duration, usually 20 minutes or less, are common in the industry (and promote employee efficiency), and must be counted as hours worked. Bona fide meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) generally need not be compensated as work time as long as the employee is relieved from duty for the purpose of eating a regular meal.

Recordkeeping: A daily and weekly record of all hours worked, including time spent in pre-shift and post-shift job-related activities, must be kept.

Salaried Employees: A salary, by itself, does not exempt employees coverage of the FLSA. Whether employees are exempt from  minimum wage and/or overtime depends on their job duties and responsibilities as well as the way compensation is made. Sometimes, in call centers, salaried employees do not meet all the requirements specified by the regulations to be considered as exempt.

There have been some lawsuits brought recently to recover unpaid overtime pay and pay for work done off the clock. For example,  Sprint/United Managment Co. agreed to a $9 million settlement for overtime pay and APAC Customer Services, Inc. agreed to a $4 million payment for overtime to cover time spent logging into the computer system, performing clerical duties and reviewing company notices prior to logging into the company’s timekeeping system.

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