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Sehie v. City of Aurora, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit*, No. 04-2308, December 27, 2005
Decision: Time spent commuting to employer-mandated counseling sessions held during off hours is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Sehie worked as an emergency dispatcher for the City of Aurora, Illinois. On December 14, 2000, at the end of her eight-hour shift, she was directed to stay and work another shift because her coworker was sick. A half hour into her shift, she became very angry and abruptly left work. She saw her therapist and received medication for her stress. The next day she reported the absence as a work-related injury.
She was required to obtain a fitness for duty evaluation. As a condition of her return to work, she was directed to see a psychotherapist of the employer’s choice once a week for six months. This was done outside of her normal work hours. Before she resigned, she attended 16 sessions, each time traveling by car two hours for each session. She sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, claiming the time should have been paid by the employer.
The Seventh Circuit agreed with her, stating the counseling sessions were primarily for the benefit of her employer. The FLSA requires that an employee must be paid for all time “spent in physical or mental exertion, whether burdensome or not, controlled and required by the employer, and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer or his business.” The Court reasoned that although Sehie also benefited from the counseling sessions, they were made a condition of her employment, and Aurora was also short of staff, so it was for their benefit as well.
The Court did state, “By no means does our ruling mean that every time an employer gets help for its employees, the employee must be compensated for the hours worked.” The Court referenced a DOL opinion letter which noted that time spent was time in which the employee’s freedom of movement was restricted for the purpose of servicing the employer and time during which the employee is subject to the employer’s direction and control [Police/Hours Worked, Wages and Hours Manual (BNA) (Dept. of Labor, Aug. 2, 1989)].
* The Seventh Circuit includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.