Time Spent Attending And Traveling To Mandatory Counseling Sessions Compensable Under FLSA

The City of Aurora, Illinois hired Kari Sehie as a dispatcher in 1994. At the end of Sehie’s shift on December 14, 2000, her supervisors instructed her to stay late and work another shift because a co-worker was sick. Sehie protested, and became very angry and upset, abruptly leaving work. Between leaving work on December 14 and returning the next day, Sehie spoke with her therapist and took medication for her stress. When Sehie returned to work, she reported the absence as a work-related injury.

The City required Sehie to submit to a fitness-for-duty evaluation. The physician performing the evaluation concluded that Sehie was fit for duty, but recommended that she attend weekly psychotherapy for six months. The City adopted the doctor’s recommendation and ordered Sehie to see its therapist outside of her regular duty hours.

After she resigned from employment, Sehie sued the City under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), contending that she was entitled to compensation for the time attending and commuting back and forth to the mandatory counseling sessions. After a federal trial court ruled in Sehie’s favor, the City appealed.

The federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that the time spent in the counseling sessions was compensable time under the FLSA. The City argued that the counseling sessions were not pursued primarily for its benefit, but rather for Sehie’s. As such, the City contended that the fact that it mandated the treatment was inconsequential.

The Court disagreed. The Court found that “attendance at the sessions was a mandatory condition of Sehie’s continued employment. This requirement, combined with the fact that the City was short of telecommunication staff, creates a strong inference that the counseling sessions were for the City’s benefit. In addition, the City would not let Sehie see her own therapist, with whom she had a prior medical relationship. We find it odd that the City would not let Sehie see her own therapist if the City believed that these counseling sessions were for her benefit. Also, the record establishes that the purpose of the required counseling sessions was to enable Sehie to perform her job duties and relate to co-workers more effectively and at a higher skill level.”

The City also pointed to Section 785.43 of the Department of Labor’s regulations on the FLSA. Section 785.43 provides that “time spent by an employee in waiting for and receiving medical attention on the premises or at the direction of the employer during the employee’s normal working hours on days when he is working constitutes hours worked.” The City reasoned that since the regulation only covers treatment received during regular work hours, the necessary inference to draw is that treatment occurring outside of work hours is non-compensable.

The Court disagreed with what it referred to as the City’s “rigid reading of the regulation.” The Court found that the Department of Labor’s opinions on the subject were conflicting, and not entitled to deference. The Court concluded its opinion with the holding that “the City must pay Sehie for (1) physical or mental exertion; (2) controlled and required by the employer, and (3) pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer. The mandatory counseling sessions that Sehie attended, at the direction of the City, clearly satisfies these requirements and are thus compensable under the FLSA.”

Sehie v. City of Aurora, 2005 WL 3534472 (7th Cir. 2005).

This article appears in the February 2006 issue