The U.S. Department of Labor requested that a federal judge approve a consent judgment requiring the Puerto Rico Police Department to pay $8,732,386 in back wages and interest to 2,642 current and former police officers who did not receive all their overtime wages required under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal agency announced Wednesday.
The FLSA allows certain public sector employers to grant employees such as law enforcement officers one and one-half hours of compensatory time, in place of overtime wages, for each overtime hour worked.
The law caps the number of “comp time” hours that law enforcement officers can accrue at 480. This means employees must be paid overtime wages rather than continuing to receive comp time when they work hours that would push them beyond the 480-hour accrual ceiling. They are also entitled to cash payment for any accrued comp time when they terminate their employment, the agency explained.
An investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division found that between June 2010 and August 2014 the commonwealth’s police department willfully committed a number of violations of the FLSA, most significantly regarding the failure to pay overtime properly.
Similar investigations conducted between 2003 and 2009 resulted in the recovery of more than $6.2 million for 1,087 police department employees across Puerto Rico.
This latest investigation disclosed violations including the failure to:
- Pay overtime to officers and non-exempt sergeants who banked comp time hours in excess of the 480-hour limit.
- Pay former employees for their banked comp time hours at termination of employment or retirement.
- Record and pay canine officers for all on-duty hours spent caring for their police dogs.
- Record canine care and maintenance hours for employees involved in task forces with federal agencies.
- Record and pay police academy cadets overtime for mandatory activities that exceeded 40 hours in a workweek.
“These police officers put their lives on the line to protect the people of Puerto Rico every day,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director José R. Vázquez. “Now the law is protecting them, as they receive the overtime they have rightfully earned. This investigation, litigation and judgment will send a clear message that we will continue our robust enforcement, and to use all of the enforcement tools available to us to ensure that working men and women take home every penny they have rightfully earned.”
In addition to the payment of the back wages and interest, the proposed consent judgment, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, requires the police department and the commonwealth to:
- Comply with all applicable FLSA requirements.
- Pay overtime to employees in a timely manner.
- Pay employees for their banked hours upon their retirement or termination.
- Pay canine employees two hours per day for canine care.
- Implement electronic recordkeeping and payroll systems to ensure prompt and accurate recording of work hours and timely payment of accurate wages.
- Provide approved training on FLSA requirements to all employees and supervisors.
- Provide annual progress reports to the Wage and Hour Division.
- Provide written notice of the consent judgment to all employees.
The proposed judgment also prohibits the defendants from committing future FLSA overtime and recordkeeping violations, withholding payment of the back wages and interest, retaliating against employees and having employees kick back the overtime wages and interest.
“The department worked with the commonwealth not just to obtain back wages but to design measures for ensuring ongoing compliance. These efforts show our continued commitment to safeguarding the wages to which these employees are legally entitled,” said Jeffrey S. Rogoff, the department’s regional solicitor in New York.
The division’s Caribbean District Office conducted the investigation and Molly Biklen and Summer Silversmith from the department’s Office of the Regional Solicitor in New York handled the case.