BYOD backlash


Chicago police Sgt. Jeffrey Allen has sued the city of Chicago, making the claim that the city owes him and other officers overtime pay for work performed on BlackBerry phones provided by the city. The police officers were allowed — and encouraged — to carry the phones while off duty, and the police department quickly got in the habit of sending emails to and calling off duty officers. There are millions of dollars involved, given that as many as 200 other officers are expected to join the suit.

Michael Tarm had this to say:

“Everybody can relate to this because people are being asked all the time these days to work for free and they are being told to work for free using their phones,” attorney Paul Geiger said.

Earlier Wednesday, attorneys for both Allen and the city told a judge they had agreed on the wording of documents that will be sent to other officers asking if they want to join the lawsuit.

According to the suit, police brass pressured subordinates in the department’s organized crime bureau to answer work-related calls and emails on their BlackBerrys, and then also dissuaded the officers from filing for overtime.

“A culture has developed where police officers feel compelled to work for free in order to possibly gain a promotion and/or maintain their coveted assignment,” according to a plaintiff filing.

The city responded that written policy, on the contrary, specifically instructs officers to ask for overtime. And it argues that Allen lumps together urgent emails with ones that – while sent when he was off duty – could have been responded to the next day.

Business — and police brass — seems to want to have it both ways: they want people to work longer hours, to the point that work/life balance becomes difficult if not impossible. In this situation, the unionized police have a contract that stipulates overtime for hourly workers. Of course, the average knowledge worker who brings his own iPhone to work is treated as a salaried professional, and basically has given up any possible claim for a separation of work and personal time.

Regarding the Chicago case of Sgt Allen, the judge has allowed the case to proceed, saying there is sufficient reason to hear the case. And if he prevails, it will have large ramifications for other hourly workers, and perhaps put a damper on BYOD sorts of initiatives.

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