By Richard Thal
WPPA General Counsel
It is now well known that law enforcement dog handlers must be paid for all hours worked, and that Ahours worked@ includes time spent caring for canines outside scheduled working hours. But despite this knowledge, many dog handlers are not being fully compensated for time spent feeding, exercising, training, grooming and performing other dog-handling tasks.
Although municipalities cannot reasonably deny that under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) canine care time is compensable, they can question the amount of time that dog handlers say is required to complete their canine-related tasks. For example, in a recent court case, the City of Milwaukee argues that it properly paid dog handlers thirty minutes a day of compensation for off-duty canine care. The city explained that dog handling duties such as grooming, exercising of the dog, veterinary examinations, obedience training, and the purchase of food and medicine may be performed while the officer is on duty. In contrast, the Milwaukee dog handlers contended that they spend a minimum of sixty off-duty minutes a day caring for their dogs. Ultimately, the parties reached a settlement under which the city agreed to pay the dog handlers for sixty minutes a day (seven days a week) for the performance of off-duty dog care. This sixty minutes includes any time spent caring for a dog while transporting the dog to and from work.
If you are a dog handler, your duties may be quite different than those of the Milwaukee dog handlers. Thus, the sixty minutes of off-duty time agreed to in that case may not apply in your case. Indeed, since the requirements for different canine officers differ, the average off-duty compensable time spent caring for a dog may vary from thirty to ninety minutes per day.
Most courts that have ruled on the issue of whether dog handlers are entitled to compensation for transporting the dog between home and work have held that the commuting time does not count as hours worked under the FLSA. One court recently reasoned that it makes no difference whether an officer transports two-legged or four-legged passengers to work; the time spent commuting is non-compensable. There are, however, some cases where courts have found that time engaged in canine-related duties while transporting a dog should be counted as hours worked.
Because federal wage and hour laws supercede contractual provisions, your local association and your employer are not allowed to bargain agreements under which a dog handler would receive less pay than that to which he or she is entitled based on actual hours worked. But your local can reach an agreement over what is anticipated to be the amount of time that will be spent performing assigned dog-handling duties. Then, unless a dog handler could clearly demonstrate that such an agreement provided an insufficient amount of time for the actual performance of the assigned tasks, the agreement would probably be lawful.
In brief, all dog handlers should be receiving compensation for off-duty time spent caring for their dogs. How much compensation depends on how much off-duty time is actually spent training, feeding or otherwise caring for the dog.