The Fresno County, California Sheriff’s Department operates a “Take-Home Patrol Vehicle Program,” pursuant to which deputies are allowed to commute to and from their residences to their duty assignments in a patrol vehicle assigned to them. Participation in the program is voluntary. Participants in the program are not compensated for the time spent commuting to and from their duty assignments or for the time spent cleaning and maintaining their vehicles outside of on-duty time.
A group of County deputies sued the County, alleging that the time spent commuting in their patrol vehicles should be counted as “hours worked” under the Fair Labor Standards Act. A federal trial court turned away the deputies’ claims.
The Court found that the case was controlled by what is known as the Employee Commuter Flexibility Act (ECFA). The ECFA provides that employers need not compensate employees for “the use of an employer’s vehicle for travel by an employee and activities performed by an employee which are incidental to the use of such vehicle for commuting.”
The Court found that “the fact that the deputies are required to monitor their communications equipment during their commute is insufficient to transform their commutes into compensable work. Although the deputies may be called upon to engage in the myriad of duties performed by a patrol deputy during their commutes, the possibility of having to perform compensable activities during their commutes does not transform their entire commutes into compensable work. It is undisputed that, pursuant to County policy, deputies are instructed to report through the payroll system time spent reporting the calls during their commute, and that such time is compensable. In other words, to the extent the deputies were called upon to perform legally cognizable work during their commute, County policy requires that they be compensated for such work.”
Espinoza v. County of Fresno, 2011 WL 3359632 (E.D. Cal. 2011).
This article appears in the November 2011 issue.