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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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High Bar for Overtime in New York Passes Muster

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - Protocol dictated the high benchmark for white-collar workers to earn overtime when called into duty after Hurricane Sandy, a New York appeals court ruled.

A state union representing the workers claimed they should have received overtime once their workweek exceeded 40 hours, just like other employees.

New York civil service law authorizes the state budget director to pay overtime to normally overtime-ineligible white-collar workers during an "extreme emergency." Then-Budget Director Robert Megna put that label on Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New York City and Long Island just before Halloween in 2012. The state turned to the white-collar workers for help with the cleanup, setting the floor for their overtime at 47.5 hours.

Estimating that this high threshold for overtime affected more than 14,000 of its members, the New York State Public Employees Federation, which represents workers employed in professional, scientific and technical positions within state agencies, filed a 2013 complaint in Albany County Supreme Court.

Though the union argued that Megna exceeded his authority by increasing the overtime threshold as he tried to keep costs in check, the trial court sided with the state, finding no showing that Megna's decision was irrational.

The Appellate Division's Third Department in Albany affirmed Thursday, saying the state had used the 47.5-hour floor in other emergencies, including Hurricanes Irene and Lee in 2011.

"The threshold cannot be said to be arbitrary on the ground that it departs unreasonably from DOB's approach in other emergency situations," Justice Elizabeth Garry wrote for the four-judge panel, abbreviating Division of the Budget.

"As we find nothing that is otherwise irrational or unreasonable in the budget director's imposition of the 47.5-hour threshold for work related to Hurricane Sandy, the determination must be upheld," Garry added.

She said the finding also jibes with the "statutory language" of civil-service law, which is specific in laying out a 40-hour workweek for overtime-eligible workers and paying them 1.5 times their regular hourly rate for hours worked over 40.

No similar outline exists for white-collar workers, who "might routinely be called upon in nonemergency situations to work more than 40 hours in a week without additional compensation," the opinion states.

As a result, the Legislature allowed the budget director to decide whether to grant emergency overtime "and, within certain statutory limits, at what rate such compensation should be paid," Garry wrote.

According to the opinion, a budget official described the 47.5-hour floor as in place for "many years," the result of meetings among agencies involved in emergency planning and service delivery.

The number, which adds another day - 7.5 hours - to the workweek before overtime, takes into account the extra time white-collar employees might typically work in their managerial or professional positions.

PEF additionally failed on appeal to show that the refusal by certain state-agency defendants to have the budget director allow payment for that 7.5-hour extra day was arbitrary. They had no authority to make such a request, the panel said.

Justices John Lahtinen, Robert Rose and Eugene Devine concurred.

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