Despite lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit, there are still departments in this country today that continue to blatantly break the law by either refusing to compensate handlers for off-duty care of their police dogs or they do not compensate fairly. Some departments have relied on extortion and threatened to disband K9 programs if forced to pay FLSA compensation and have done so in a few cases. In some other cases, departments simply do not know the law. Regardless, compensation is not an option – it’s the law!
K9 handlers cannot legally waive FLSA provisions.
Terry Fleck from “Canine Legal Update & Opinions” wrote; I have polled about 28,000 canine personnel throughout the United States on this FLSA at-home care issue. About 70% of our industry not only knows about FLSA at-home care compensation, but are in compliance as well. If you are in the other 30% and your agency is not in compliance with the labor law regarding handler compensation, it is inevitable that you will have one of these persons raise his ugly head, a disgruntled ex-canine handler. If your agency is not in compliance with the labor law, the handler will sue their agency and win!
According to the Department of Labor, bathing, brushing, exercising, feeding, grooming, cleaning of the dog’s kennel or transport vehicle, administering drugs or medicine for illness and/or transporting the dog to and from an animal hospital or veterinarian and training the dog at home are all compensable activities.
Compensation for K9 handlers should be specified within an agency policy and/or within a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or similar employer-employee contract.
The opined “industry standard” of 30 minutes per day for care and maintenance of police service dogs without specificity to on-duty or off-duty has been associated with one court case, “Levering v District of Columbia, 869 F. Supp. 24 (1994)” from the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia. The specific facts and circumstances of that particular case may not be relevant to your agency and your care. However, this general time standard is a good baseline to begin any negotiation for improvement in your compensation if needed and many agencies are actually using “3.5 hours per week” for their compensation agreements.
Sixty (60) minutes of care per week for a police service dog was ruled unreasonable. ~Leever v. Carson City, 360 F.3d 1014 (2004)
If your department is not paying you for the time you are lawfully entitled, you should carefully begin steps to remedy the situation. I believe the biggest failure in compensation matters is a lack of communication between the involved parties. Litigation over compensation issues should be a last resort because it is not generally a mutually-beneficial process for all of the parties involved. Litigation can create division of loyalties and in some cases has led to the elimination of productive and successful police K9 programs. Litigation can usually be avoided if open lines of communication exist and reasonable parties are involved in the process.
“The solution for the FLSA handler compensation for the at-home care of his dog is simple. Get into compliance.” ~Terry Fleck
It’s no secret that budgets dictate many of the compensatory decisions and money is tight. One of the simplest recommendations to avoid paying extra money is a modified work schedule. In most cases, a handler will work one hour less on their shift – reporting to the regular shift one hour later than scheduled or going home one hour earlier to satisfy the FLSA requirement – to take care of their required off-duty maintenance responsibilities.
I wrote an article titled “K9 Care and Handler Compensation” with more information that was published in Police K-9 Magazine (Sept/Oct 2008) and posted online in 2008 at PoliceOne.com and it is still relevant today with the exception of reduced pay in lieu of overtime or actual work hours. The article is now titled “K9 Off-Duty Care and Compensation” and it can be accessed in the “Articles” section on this web site.
Take care, be safe and make sure you are being compensated fairly…
Bill Lewis II
This “Reason” was originally shared on September 3, 2013