Canine Dog Care Agreement Precludes FLSA Lawsuit

Frank Krause and William Martin were patrol officers with the Township of Manalapan, New Jersey Police Department. In 1997, Krause, whose childhood dream was to become a canine officer, began discussing with Police Chief John McCormack the possibility of creating a canine unit for the Township. Krause conducted research to support his proposal, contacting other agencies to understand the logistics, costs, and responsibilities associated with operating a canine unit. He prepared a proposal that “outlined…everything he investigated as to” the formation of a canine unit. The Township agreed to form a canine unit in 2000, and Krause and McCormack worked together in reviewing canine policies from other police departments to create the Township’s policy. Krause and Martin were assigned to the canine unit at its inception and the Township gave each officer a dog.

The dogs lived with each officer in their homes and the officers were responsible for all aspects of the dogs’ care. Those duties included grooming, walking, feeding, bathing, and ensuring that the dogs received proper veterinary care. The officers also incurred additional cleaning duties for their police vehicles and homes because of the presence of the dogs.

While arranging logistics for the new canine unit, Chief McCormack told Krause and Martin that they would “have to be compensated on the handling of the dogs” since the care of the animals would involve work outside of their normal shift hours. McCormack proposed that the officers receive four hours per week of “comp time” as payment for off-duty care of the dogs. Krause and Martin accepted McCormack’s proposal and an agreement was put into place. That agreement was later incorporated in a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the Police Benevolent Association with the Township.

Later, the officers filed an FLSA lawsuit against the City, claiming that the four hour-weekly comp time did not adequately compensate the officers for their off-duty dog care activities. The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected the lawsuit.

The Court held that “generally, employers and employees cannot make agreements for compensation less than that provided for in the FLSA, and such agreements are unenforceable for policy reasons. Because, however, it is difficult to determine precisely how many hours employees spend working at home, an exception allows employers and employees to reach a ‘reasonable agreement’ regarding the amount of compensation to be received for work performed at home. This exception has been construed by the U.S. Department of Labor to cover canine police officers for the off-duty time they spend caring for their dogs.

“Krause and Martin argue that the agreement they made with the Township was neither reasonable nor took into account all the pertinent facts. Krause and Martin offered an expert opinion that off-duty care for each dog would require 22.6 hours per week. They also point out that the agreement was reached before the canine unit was started, so that the agreement was made ‘without sufficient experience to even know how many off-duty hours would be required to care for the assigned dogs.’

“The undisputed evidence shows, however, that Krause researched at length the duties and responsibilities associated with a canine unit prior to the establishment of the unit by the Township. Further, in coming to the agreement to provide for one hour of comp time per shift, the officers themselves discussed the matter with McCormack. As time went on and the canine officers acquired experience with the responsibilities of caring for the dogs, they not only failed to say anything indicating that their comp time arrangement was inadequate, they accepted its memorialization as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

“In the present case an agreement was made between the parties, and the regulations recognize that determining actual time worked can be difficult and is not a necessity. Further, a reasonable agreement need not match the actual number of hours worked, as there are undisputed benefits to having a trained police dog at home. The Township was thus entitled to rely on the clear terms of the agreement.”

Krause v. Manalapan Tp., 2012 WL 2478360 (3d Cir. 2012).