Overtime Pay and Federal Employees

Employees of the Bureau of Prisons argued that they were entitled to overtime pay. They lost before the Court of Claims and a federal appeals court decision leads to a similar conclusion.

Bureau of Prison employees who sued seeking compensation for overtime have lost their case in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. (Carlsen v. United States, No. 2007-5011 and Shea v. United States, No. 2007-5099), C.A.F.C., 4/9/08)

The case was on appeal from the Court of Federal Claims, which had ruled against the employees’ overtime claims. The lower court concluded that the employees had either failed to show they had actually performed uncompensated overtime work, or that any overtime work performed was de minimis, thus not requiring overtime compensation.

Now, the appeals court affirms the claims court.

The five Prisons employees covered by the appeals court’s decision worked in Otisville, New York, and Springfield, Missouri. All argued that the claims court had improperly applied the controlling case law (Doe v. United States, 372 F.3rd 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). The Doe case held that occasional overtime was not compensable unless—as required by OPM regulation–it was directed or approved in writing by an official with authority to approve overtime.

The Prison employees argued that Doe should not apply to law enforcement work. The appeals court has rejected that argument, pointing out that the OPM regulation applies throughout the civilian workforce. (Opinion p. 4)

The appeals court was equally unpersuaded by the argument that documents such as manuals, training materials emails, and agency standards of conduct requiring Prison employees to follow directives were enough to constitute written authorization or direction to perform overtime. The court stated that such documents “do not direct the performance of overtime work…[and] do not satisfy the requirement of an express written order to perform overtime, because none of them directed work in general, or certain tasks in particular, to be performed outside the employees’ regularly scheduled shifts.” (p. 5)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.