Oil Spill Recovery Vessel Crew Entitled to Overtime Wages for "On Call" Time

On April 14, 2011, the Court of Appeals of the State of California, First Appellate District, ruled in Seymore v. Metson Marine, Inc. that crew members of an offshore oil spill recovery vessel were entitled to overtime pay because their employer, Metson Marine, Inc. (Metson), artificially designated employees workweeks to circumvent statutory requirements to pay overtime rates when employees worked seven consecutive days in a workweek and were entitled to compensation for time spent in an on call status.

Employees worked consecutive fourteen (14) day "hitches" on Metson's ships providing emergency cleanup of oil spills and other environmentally hazardous discharges. The employees two (2) week work period started on a Tuesday at noon and ended at noon on the Tuesday fourteen (14) days later. However, Metson calculated overtime pay on the premise that the workweek began at 12:00 am on Monday and ended at 11:59 pm the following Sunday. Based on Metson's calculation, employees worked six (6) days the first workweek, seven (7) days the second workweek, and two (2) days in a third workweek. Therefore, the employees were only paid for a full seven (7) day workweek once in their two (2) week cycle, despite the fact that they had worked two (2) full seven (7) day workweeks. Accordingly, the Appellate Court held that California State law is more protective of employees than federal law, and is intended to prevent an employer from designing a workweek that would evade overtime compensation laws, as Metson did.

Additionally, employees worked twelve (12) hour shifts everyday. The remaining twelve (12) hours were designated by Metson as "off-duty." Of those twelve (12) hours, eight (8) were designated for sleeping, with the remaining four (4) hours considered "off-duty"; however employees were required to be on "stand by" during their four (4) "off-duty" hours. The employees were required to check in and out if they chose to leave the vessel, were required to carry a cell phone or pager, were prohibited from consuming alcohol, had to be able to return to the ship within thirty (30) to forty-five (45) minutes if called, and were required to sleep on board the vessel during their fourteen (14) day hitches. Accordingly, the California Appellate Court held that the employees were entitled to compensation for four (4) off-duty hours spent in an "on-call" status because requiring Metson employees to sleep aboard the vessel and stay within a short distance of the vessel at all times significantly affected and limited what the employees could and could not actually do during their off-duty time.

Accordingly, employers may not artificially designate a workweek that would circumvent requirements that an employer pay overtime to an employee and the crew members were entitled to be compensated for the four (4) hours they were in an "on-call" status.

Read a copy of the Court of Appeals of the State of California, First Appellate District Decision

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