We all know that obliging or even allowing employees to work off the clock can get us in trouble with DOL’s wage-and-hour cops.

But how far does the definition of “off the clock” go? Would it cover, say, a boss’s phone conversation with an off-duty employee about problems at work?

A federal court says it would.

Here’s the situation: An African-American supervisor at a Walmart store in Minnesota believed that some employees and the store manager were biased against her. But her complaints led to an investigation of employee beefs against her. In the midst of this, one employee asked the supervisor to call and “let her know how she was doing.”

The supervisor made the call, during non-working hours, and the two women spent 90 minutes discussing a mix of personal and work-related issues.

When the store manager heard of the call, he insisted the employee be paid for her time on the phone, as the conversation had dealt with work. And the supervisor was fired for breaking company policy on off-the-clock work.

Policy was properly applied
The supervisor sued, but an appeals court rebuffed her. Not only did the company correctly apply its policy, the court said, it was to be applauded for its efforts to ensure its managers respected the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Takeaway: Realistically, you can’t ban all supervisor-employee talk outside of work. But supervisors can be asked to keep work-related discussions within the office and/or during working hours.

Cite: Clay v. Walmart Stores, No. 10-2414, 8th Cir., 6/9/11.

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