Is the time that it takes to boot up and power down a computer at the beginning and the end of the day work?
A number of lawyers are trying to settle that question. On the one hand, users start rebooting the computer and then spend up to 15-20 minutes chatting, getting coffee, and so on during the process, which adds up to a lot of unproductive time for the employer, contends one side. On the other hand, the bootup process -- which may be required due to security or power concerns, and can include a variety of programs required by the employer -- needs to be performed by the employee before they can work, and it can add up to a lot of unpaid time for the employee.
There is, of course, a long history of requiring employees to contribute unpaid time to the employer, ranging from George Orwell to Upton Sinclair. But unlike that era, employees are now fighting back.
During the past year, the article described, several companies -- including AT&T Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp. -- have been hit with lawsuits in which employees claimed that they were not paid for the 15- to 30-minute task of booting their computers at the start of each day and logging out at the end. One respondent to the article said she had worked for MBNA and had been required to show up 15 minutes early, and received a check some time later in response to a class-action lawsuit paying her for that extra time.
The attorney for some of the employee cases disputes the contention that employees are goofing off while the computers boot up, claiming that they are actually starting paperwork, making calls, or arranging their calendar while waiting on the computer.
The problem can be particularly acute in call centers, where there may be hundreds of employees who may be required to show up as much as fifteen minutes early in order to be ready to work by a particular time.
Employees also wonder where it will end.
"Taken to a logical extrapolation an employer could pay a receptionist only for the time he/she is routing a phone call not the few minutes of "downtime" in between," noted one commenter. "It could easily be argued that when I hit the "Compile" button on a large project, I'm taking a work break because my machine is doing all the work," agreed another.