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It Pays (More) (Soon?) to Work on Sundays

By Ed O'Keefe

Five part-time meteorologists with the National Weather Service should receive a premium rate of normal pay hours for working on Sundays, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled this week.

The case boils down to the definition of the word "employee." The appeals court ruled that the lower U.S. Court of Federal Claims "erred by finding ambiguity in the word 'employee' as used in 5 U.S.C. § 5546(a)" and will have to reconsider the case.

Five part-time meteorologists who work at regional forecasting offices in Spokane, Wash., Fairbanks, Alaska and Islip, N.Y. filed a complaint with the Court of Federal Claims in May 2007. They participate in a job-share arrangement, sharing a full-time position with another person. NWS pays full-time employees for Sunday shifts at a premium rate of 125 percent of their regular pay, in accordance with the Office of Personnel Management's Sunday premium pay statute. It does not extend the premium rate to the part-timers.

The Court of Federal Claims determined that OPM's definition of "employee" did not answer the "precise question" of whether part-time employees are eligible for the premium rate.

The meteorologists appealed to the higher court, which ruled that "It cannot be disputed that Appellants are 'employees,'  and therefore entitled to the premium pay, even though they worked part time."

Here's an extended passage from this week's decision (pdf):

We disagree with the court’s conclusion that the word “employee” is ambiguous with respect to whether it encompasses those who work part time. Congress defined “employee” to include, among others, “an employee in or under an Executive agency.” 5 U.S.C. § 5541(2)(A). While this definition is “circular” in the sense that it uses the defined word in the definition, we do not agree that it “reveals nothing about the scope of the term.” Fathauer, 82 Fed. Cl. at 516. Rather, Congress’s decision to use the word “employee” in the definition demonstrates that a special definition was unnecessary because the word was intended to be given its ordinary meaning.
Dictionaries generally define “employees” as those who work for pay. See, e.g., Oxford English Dictionary vol. 5 191 (2d ed. 1989) (“a person employed for wages”); The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 428 (1969) (“[a] person who works for another in return for financial or other compensation”); The Random House Dictionary of the English Language 468 (1967) (“a person working for another person or a business firm for pay”); Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 743 (1968) (“one employed by another usu. in a position below the executive level and usu. for wages” or “any worker who is under wages or salary to an employer and who is not excluded by agreement from consideration as such a worker”). Appellants fall squarely within these definitions, which contain no suggestion that an individual’s status as an “employee” is dependent on whether he works full time.

So yes -- sometimes it pays to work on Sundays, and someday soon it may pay extra.


Related: Eye On the National Weather Service (Feb. 23, 2009)

By Ed O'Keefe  | May 29, 2009; 5:51 AM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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