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Is Boot Up Time Work Time?

Over the past several months there has been much ado about the status of time employees spend waiting for their computers to boot up. Class actions have been filed against Cigna Corp., AT&T and BellSouth, and United HealthGroup, in which employee lawyers allege that the employers have not been paying for time employees spend waiting for their computers to start up and shut down.

Although the press has labeled these a new type of lawsuit, they involve straightforward application of settled principles about the concept of hours worked. Under both the federal Department of Labor regulations and the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement guidelines, time that employees spend waiting for something to happen after they get to work constitute hours worked, because the employee remains subject to the control of the employer. The time does not count toward hours worked only if there is a sufficient break in work for employees to devote time to their own pursuits. For the federal and state administrative interpretations see 29 CFR sec. 785.14and section 46 of the DLSE Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual.

Section 785.15 of the federal regulations gives the following examples: “A stenographer who reads a book while waiting for dictation, a messenger who works a crossword puzzle while awaiting assignments, fireman who plays checkers while waiting for alarms and a factory worker who talks to his fellow employees while waiting for machinery to be repaired are all working during their periods of inactivity.”

While it is impossible to state a definitive view based on the bare bones information reported in the stories about the booting up cases, waiting for a computer to boot up would appear to be constitute work under the applicable principles. If employers are truly concerned about work time lost to boot up time, they should develop technological solutions that assure their computer systems are ready when employees arrive for work.