Health Insurers Not Immune From Class Actions by Call Center Employees

Class and collective actions by call center employees seeking overtime pay for time spent logging on and logging off their computers at the beginning and end of their shifts have become relatively commonplace in telecommunications and computer-related industries. Now these types of claims are spreading to health insurers with large billing, customer service, and sales call centers. Within the last three months, two such putative class and collective actions have been filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California alleging violations of both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California state wage laws. 

In one of the cases the plaintiff alleges that employees in the insurer’s customer service call center were subject to discipline if they were not ready to take customer calls at the very start of their shifts. To meet this requirement, the plaintiff claims, call center customer service employees had to arrive at work early and spend at least 10 minutes before their shift logging onto their computers and phone, ensuring they were working properly, and opening several applications they needed to use during their shifts. Similarly, the plaintiff claims, because call center employees are required to handle 60 calls per eight-hour shift, they cannot log off and shut down their phones and computers until after the conclusion of their shift.  The plaintiff claims that performing these pre- and post-shift tasks can take each employee 20 minutes per day that is uncompensated.

The other case involves a healthcare insurer’s telephone sales representatives who operate from call centers in California and other states across the country.  The potential class includes employees who answer calls from potential customers and either try to make sales over the phone or arrange meetings between the potential customers and outside sales representatives.  The plaintiff alleges that the call center employees are required to be ready to receive calls no later than five minutes after the start of their shifts.  Because of the large number of programs that need to be opened in order to begin accepting calls, the plaintiff claims, it takes the telephone sales representatives from 10 to 30 to boot up their computers and log in.  The plaintiff asserts that this preparatory time is unpaid and that call center employees are not compensated until they are actually ready to begin taking calls.  The plaintiff claims that the call center sales representatives are also not compensated for ten minutes they allegedly spend each day  logging off the computer system at the end of their shifts.

These actions may, however, be successfully defended.  For example, in Knutson v. Blue Cross,  attorneys at Littler defeated plaintiff’s motion for certification of a class of more than 1200 customer service representatives claiming they were not paid for work they performed prior to and after their scheduled work shifts, booting-up and shutting-down their computers, logging on and off telephone systems, reviewing e-mails, and speaking with Blue Cross customers. The class action was subsequently dismissed and the case settled on an individual – rather than a large class – basis.

Nevertheless, as the recently filed cases reflect, plaintiffs’ class action counsel continue to look at health insurers’ call centers as  potential sources of FLSA and state wage and hour class and collective actions seeking pay for time spent allegedly off-the-clock logging on and off computer systems.  

This entry was written by Greg Keating

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.