Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Call Center Employees Report Unpaid Wages

Call Center Customer Service Representative, Telemarketing & Sales Employees | Employee Overtime Pay Complaints | Class Action Investigation

If you were employed as a call center customer service representative, telemarketer, sales rep or other call center employee (i.e., customer service specialist, call center consultant, CSR, call center agent, telemarketing rep, telesales rep, help desk employee, call center trainer, technical support rep, account services retention specialist, contact center representative, etc.) and you believe that you have not been paid all of the overtime pay, hourly wages, salary and other benefits that you believe you are owed, tell us your story!

-Report Unpaid Call Center Overtime & Wages-

Call Center Customer Service Representative, Telemarketing and Sales Employees — You Have Legal Rights!

Federal labor law generally requires employees to be paid overtime pay at a rate of not less than one and one-half times an employee’s regular rate of pay after 40 hours of work in a workweek. Call center customer service representative, telemarketing and sales employees are no different and are typically entitled to overtime pay, unless they are exempt. Unfortunately, call center customer service representatives, telemarketers and tele sales employees are often misclassifed by their employers as exempt from overtime.

Call center workers are sometimes incorrectly treated as executives, administrators, professionals, outside sale persons, commissioned retail sales employees, independent contractors or other exempt employees when they should not be. These terms are defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and require that very specific legal requirements be met before they can apply to prevent you from receiving overtime pay.

Call center customer service representatives, telemarketers and tele sales employees are sometimes denied overtime pay for other reasons which can be improper. Common industrywide examples include:

  • requiring call center employees to work off the clock (not recording time actually worked by the employee on the job, not paying for meal periods and rest breaks, failing to pay overtime for travel time from the office to a work-site and back, not paying overtime for time spent working while traveling, refusing to pay overtime for attendance at training, meetings and lectures, not paying for time spent doing necessary preparations for work such as suiting up or putting on protective gear on, on-call time, or time in security lines, forcing employees to work without clocking in, or by telling employees to report fewer hours than actually worked);
  • telling call center employees that they did not get permission or approval in advance for the overtime or that they are paid a salary and salaried workers are not entitled to overtime (just because you are paid a salary does not necessarily mean that you are not entitled to overtime);
  • miscalculating the amount of overtime pay due (call center employers often improperly calculate overtime by carrying over one week’s earned overtime hours into another week, paying employees their regular rate for overtime work instead of time and a half; altering employees’ time sheets and records, etc.).

–Contact An Overtime Pay Class Action Lawyer–

If you were employed as a call center customer service representative, telemarketer, sales rep or other call center employee (i.e., customer service specialist, call center consultant, CSR, call center agent, telemarketing rep, telesales rep, help desk employee, call center trainer, technical support reps, account services retention specialist, contact center representative) and you believe that you have not been paid all of the overtime pay, hourly wages, salary and other benefits that you believe you are due (or if you are just not sure and want to find out), the overtime pay class action attorneys at may be able to help you.

-Report Unpaid Call Center Overtime & Wages-

Call Center Employees Represented by Nichols Kaster & Anderson File Unpaid Wage and Overtime Lawsuit Against Wisconsin


Call center employees represented by the law firm of Nichols Kaster & Anderson,
PLLP have brought a putative collective action for unpaid wages and
overtime against Wisconsin Bell Telephone Company d/b/a AT&T Midwest.  The suit
was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on March 31, 2008.  Plaintiffs allege that Wisconsin Bell violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by refusing to compensate call center employees for all of their time worked.  The suit was started by a current call center employee, Jennifer Adair, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated. 
Specifically, Ms. Adair alleges that she and other call center employees were denied pay for time worked when they were not logged into Wisconsin Bell's phone system.  A large portion of this time was spent booting up computers, logging into computer systems and performing customer callbacks.
 Plaintiffs' attorney David Schlesinger said, "It appears that Wisconsin Bell only pays its call center employees for work performed while they are logged into their phones.  These employees should also be paid for time spent logging into and out of the various databases they use to do their jobs, and for performing other work outside of the time they are logged into the phone system.  Since employees perform these tasks daily, this time adds up."
 Plaintiffs are represented by Michele R. Fisher and David E. Schlesinger from Nichols Kaster & Anderson, PLLP, which has offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota and San Francisco, California.  The case is entitled Adair v. Wisconsin Bell Telephone Company, Inc., 08-C280, E.D. Wisconsin.
 Individuals may find information about joining this action at or by calling (877) 448-0492.
David E. Schlesinger
Nichols Kaster & Anderson, PLLP

GEICO Call-Center Workers in Virginia Join Class-Action Lawsuit.

By Tom Shean, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va. Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jul. 30--More than 50 employees at GEICO call centers in Virginia have joined a class-action lawsuit accusing the auto insurer of failing to pay its workers for overtime tasks they were re...uired to do, a plaintiffs' attorney said.

Nationwide, more than 1,000 employees and former employees have signed onto the suit, said Richard J. Burch, an attorney in Houston who helped bring the case to court.

GEICO has 10 call centers throughout the country, including one in Virginia Beach that

Birmingham lawsuit targets pay practices in Wachovia call centers

March 27, 2008

A lawsuit filed in Birmingham federal court claims Wachovia Bank doesn't pay call center workers for time they spend preparing computer systems so they can handle their duties.

The suit filed by Carrie Williams asks Senior U.S. District Court Judge William Acker Jr. to certify the case as a class action. Besides Birmingham, the nation's fourth-largest bank has call centers in Rancho Cordova, Calif.; Salem, Ore.; Allentown, Pa.; Columbia, S.C.; Jacksonville; Miami; Charlotte; Richmond and Roanoke, Va.

The complaint says call center employees cannot clock in until they power up and log onto numerous computer programs needed to serve customers.

"Call center managers seem to have a problem realizing that time spent on these preparatory activities must be recorded and employees paid for it," said Tom Campbell, the Birmingham attorney representing Williams.

Campbell said other companies have settled similar complaints.

Overtime Lawsuit Against Call Center Giant ClientLogic Expands Nationally, According to Outten & Golden LLP.

Publication Date: 01-SEP-05

BUFFALO, N.Y., Sept. 1 /PRNewswire/ -- ClientLogic Operating Corporation telephone call center employees throughout the nation have joined a lawsuit alleging that the company violated federal labor laws, according to the law firms representing the employees.

The lawsuit -- which was initiated by two former employees of ClientLogic's defunct Buffalo, N.Y., facility and alleges that the company failed to pay overtime pay to call center workers as required by federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA")...

Call Center Workers Could be Part of Lawsuit

THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT - John Hopkins July 22, 2005

CHESAPEAKE - Hundreds of local call center workers could be potential parties to a federal class-action lawsuit filed this week against HSBC Bank USA Inc.

Attorneys for the workers filed the lawsuit in New York against HSBC, which is one of Chesapeake's largest employers. HSBC also has call centers in Virginia Beach; Las Vegas; Buffalo, N.Y.; and elsewhere throughout the country.

* * *

HSBC is a Fortune 200 banking and financial services organization, with more than 30,000 employees worldwide. According to the Virginia Employment Commission, it has 1,000 to 1,464 employees in Chesapeake.

Justin M. Swartz, a lawyer with Outten & Golden, said his New York-based law firm is looking into the overtime practices of all call centers throughout the nation. "HSBC is not unique in engaging in practices like this," Swartz said. "It's an industrywide phenomenon in the call center industry."

* * *

A hot line (877-468-8836) has been established for anyone seeking to join the class action. Potential plaintiffs must contact the law firm and fill out a one-page consent form. "People should k now that time is of the essence, because every day they wait to file a case is a day of wages ticking away."

* * *

"Call center employees work in high-stress, low-pay jobs," Swartz said. Ensuring that workers got paid for all of their time on the job should be a top priority, he said. Outten & Golden and other law firms also have a similar case against TeleTech, which operates one of its call centers at the Hampton Road Center Park in Hampton. The case against TeleTech, a leading regional employer, was filed in May 2004 in a New York federal court.

IBM Call Centers

On April 28, 2008, named Plaintiff Charles Seward filed a lawsuit against Defendant International Business Machines Corporation ("IBM") seeking to recover unpaid overtime compensation on behalf of all IBM Call Center Employees who worked, but were not paid for all the time spent booting up their computers, initializing software programs and engaging in work related phone calls. The lawsuit charges that IBM violated federal law by deliberately failing to keep accurate time records and failing to pay wages earned as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

TeleTech workers to sue over pay

Topeka Capital-Journal, The, Feb 19, 2004

TELETECH Arbitration Joke They Lied Yet Again rip off lie cheat Bremerton Washington 10/10/2005

TeleTech Holdings, Inc.

TeleTech Holdings, Inc. NASD: TTEC has been accused of securities fraud. If you are a current or former employee or are a member of any of TeleTech Holdings, Inc. investment plans or profit sharing retirement plans you may be included in this possible TeleTech Holdings, Inc. 401K or Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) class action. If you purchased or held TeleTech Holdings, Inc. stock in one of those plans during the periods February 8, 2007 to November 8, 2007, you may have a claim.

It has been such a while since a new options backdating securities lawsuit has appeared that it was with some surprise I noted the new case that has been filed against Teletech Holdings and certain of its directors and officers. According to the plaintiffs’ counsel’s January 25, 2008 press release (here), the lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, relates to the company’s November 8, 2007 press release (here), in which the company announced a "self-initiated review of accounting for equity-based compensation practices and likely restatement of prior period financial statements."

TeleTech Call Centers

Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP files FLSA collective action lawsuit on behalf of TeleTech employees for unpaid wages and overtime.

Click here to View the 07/24/06 article from MO Lawyers Weekly.
Click here to View the Arbitrator Decision on Class or Collective Arbitration.
Click here to View Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Compel Arbitration
Click here to View the Kansas Complaint.
Click here to View the New York Complaint.
Click here to View the Washington Complaint.
Click here to View 9/2/04 Article from the Niagara-Gazette.
Click here to View 11/19/2004 Article from the New York Times.
Click here to View 6/12/05 Article from

On February 19, 2004, a large group of current and former employees of TeleTech Holdings, Inc. out of the Topeka, Kansas call center filed a collective action lawsuit against the company seeking unpaid wages and overtime in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. The claim in this case is that hourly customer service representatives are not properly paid for all of their hours of work.

Among other things, the lawsuit seeks recovery of back wages and overtime. In addition, the suit seeks a double damage payment based on the company's willful failure to pay its employees in accordance with the law. For more information as to what this includes, CLICK HERE to see a copy of the Complaint. CLICK HERE to see a copy of the amended Complaint filed May 11, 2004, adding Verizon Wireless as a defendant, among other things.

On May 27, 2004, current and former employees of TeleTech's Niagara Falls, New York call center filed a collective and class action lawsuit against TeleTech Holdings, Inc. and Verizon Wireless in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York for upaid wages and overtime. The claim in this case, as in the Kansas lawsuit, is that hourly customer service representatives are not properly paid for all of their hours of work.

Among other things, the lawsuit seeks recovery of back wages and overtime. In addition, the suit seeks a double damage payment based on the company's willful failure to pay its employees in accordance with the law. For more information as to what this includes, CLICK HERE to see a copy of the Complaint.

On June 17, 2004, current and former employees of TeleTech's Bremerton, Washington call center filed a collective and class action lawsuit against TeleTech Holdings, Inc. and Nextel Communications, Inc. in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington for upaid wages and overtime. The claim in this case, as in the Kansas and New York lawsuits, is that hourly customer service representatives are not properly paid for all of their hours of work. The Washington action also seeks compensation for work performed over breaks and lunchs.

Among other things, the lawsuit seeks recovery of back wages and overtime. In addition, the suit seeks a double damage payment based on the company's willful failure to pay its employees in accordance with the law. For more information as to what this includes, CLICK HERE to see a copy of the Complaint.


Does any of the conduct alleged by these TeleTech employees sound familiar?

If you worked at the Topeka, Kansas facility as a TeleTech hourly employee or customer service representative at any time during the last three years, you may be eligible to join this lawsuit.

If you worked at the Niagara Falls, New York facility as a TeleTech hourly employee or customer service representative at any time during the last six years, you may be eligible to join this lawsuit.

If you worked at any other TeleTech call center as a TeleTech hourly employee or customer service representative, you may be also eligible to join this lawsuit.

Please complete the following form as soon as possible. The completed form will be sent directly to us and we will contact you about joining this lawsuit.

If you have other questions or would like additional information, please contact George Hanson or Katrina Cervantes at 1-866-668-9241.

CenturyTel Call Center

Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP and co-counsel, Lear & Werts, LLP filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of CenturyTel call center employees for unpaid wages and overtime.


Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Citi call center employees for unpaid wages and overtime.

ClientLogic Call Centers

Stueve Siegel Hanson and Outten & Golden file FLSA collective action lawsuit on behalf of ClientLogic employees for unpaid wages and overtime.

Click here to View the Complaint.
Fill out Online format site to be contacted.

Click Here for case information and FAQ with answers to common questions.

Click here to View 07/24/06 Article from MO Lawyers Weekly
Click here to View 12/23/05 Article from Las Vegas Sun.
Click here to View 9/8/05 Article from New Mexico Business Weekly.
Click here to View 6/12/05 Article from
Click here to View 6/8/05 Article from Lakecity, Florida Reporter.
Click here to View 6/2/05 Article from The Buffalo News.
Click here to View 6/1/05 Article from Buffalo Business First.

Forced to Work Off the Clock, Some Fight Back

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE November 19, 2004

Soon after Trudy LeBlue began working at the new SmartStyle hair salon outside New Orleans, her salon manager began worrying that business was too slow and profits were too weak.

To keep costs down, Ms. LeBlue said, the manager often ordered her and the two other stylists to engage in a practice, long hidden, that appears to have spread to many companies: working off the clock.

Many weeks, Ms. LeBlue spent 40 hours in the salon, but was ordered to clock out for 20 of them while waiting for customers to show up, she said. With the salon's computer tracking her official hours, she was told to clean up and stock merchandise during the unpaid stretches.

"If you weren't doing hair or a perm, they'd tell you to get off the clock, but you still had to stay in the salon," she said.

What angered her most was her paltry paycheck, which she said often came to just $200 for two weeks, even after 80 hours at work. For Ms. LeBlue, that worked out to $2.50 an hour, less than half of the $5.15-an-hour federal minimum wage and her official rate, $5.35 an hour.

Workers at hair salons, supermarkets, restaurants, discount stores, call centers, car washes and other businesses who have murmured only to one another about off-the-clock work are now speaking up and documenting the illegal practice.

In interviews and in affidavits supporting employee lawsuits, Ms. LeBlue and more than 50 workers from a dozen companies said they were required to do such unpaid work despite federal and state laws that prohibit it and despite recent lawsuits against Wal-Mart and other companies that have highlighted the problem.

"It is prevalent," said Alfred Robinson, director of the wage and hour division of the Labor Department. "It is one of the more common violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act."

Though there have been no formal studies of the practice or of its overall cost to employees, the workers interviewed said off-the-clock work took place at a variety of companies: A&P, J. P. Morgan Chase, Pep Boys, Ryan's Family Steakhouses, TGF Precision HairCutters and Ms. LeBlue's company, SmartStyle, which is part of the Regis Corporation, the nation's largest chain of hairstylists. SmartStyle and many of the other companies say they bar off-the-clock work, and they are fighting the lawsuits.

Over the last year, the Labor Department has brought enforcement actions against several companies that required off-the-clock work, seeking back pay and demanding compliance. The agency has grown more aggressive after plaintiffs' lawyers filed scores of off-the-clock lawsuits, some resulting in multimillion-dollar settlements with prominent companies, including Radio Shack and Starbucks.

In April, the Pleasantview Healthcare Center of Bolivar, Tenn., paid $44,887 in back wages after the Labor Department found off-the-clock violations involving 41 employees - many of them clocked out while finishing their daily tasks. In February, the department recovered $180,000 from the Hanna Steel Corporation after finding that 522 employees had been forced for months to begin work five minutes before their regular shifts started.

Last November, the Labor Department announced a $4.8 million back-wages settlement with T-Mobile, the wireless telephone company, after finding that it had forced 20,500 call-center employees to work off the clock by making them show up 10 to 15 minutes before their scheduled clock-in time.

Show Up Early or Stay Late

Off-the-clock work can take many forms. Employees are sometimes told that it is the way people advance in a company, and other times they are forced to show up early or stay late under threat of losing their jobs.

Although many employees fear retribution, a number of workers said they were now willing to talk because they were angry and involved in lawsuits seeking back pay.

Waylon Pastorius, a TeleTech call-center worker in Niagara Falls, N.Y., said he was required to arrive 15 minutes before each shift began, but was not paid for that time. Sharon Djafaripour said she was instructed to record only eight hours of work a day even though she regularly worked nine and a half making crowns, bridges and other dental devices at MicroDental laboratory in Dublin, Calif. Vicky Atchley, who worked for eight years as a waitress at Ryan's Family Steakhouses in Chattanooga, Tenn., said managers often clocked her out during her lunch breaks even when she had to work through them because the restaurant was so busy. They have all sued their companies for back pay.

Executives at SmartStyle say the company prohibits off-the-clock work and seeks to prevent it. Denise Drake, a lawyer for SmartStyle, said just three cases of unpaid work had been brought to the attention of senior executives. "SmartStyle is strongly committed to properly paying its employees," she said. "The company has consistently insisted that employees track and be paid for all of the time they work."

A&P and TGF did not respond to numerous phone calls, while Ryan's and Pep Boys denied they force people to work off the clock and said they punish managers who require such work. Last year, MicroDental agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a lawsuit over off-the clock work while continuing to deny that it demanded such work.

Many people who study business practices say off-the-clock work has become more prevalent because middle managers face greater pressure to lower labor costs and because the managers' bonuses may even be tied to cutting those costs. Off-the-clock work is most often found, they say, at workplaces that employ many immigrants, like farms and poultry-processing plants, but the phenomenon has spread, especially among low-wage companies in the service sector.

"There's more of this stuff going on than 10 and 20 and especially 30 and 40 years ago," said David Lewin, a human resources professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. "There are a lot of incentives to engage in these kinds of practices, because they result in higher profits for the company and they can lead to higher bonuses for local managers."

Federal and state laws generally require that hourly employees be paid for every minute they work, meaning that when there is a time clock, workers should be clocked in whenever they are working. Salaried workers in administrative, executive and professional jobs are often exempt from overtime, however, and the law does not require anyone to keep track of their hours.

Unlike factory workers, many hourly employees work where there are no time clocks and the situation is somewhat fluid. For example, an employee might work two hours past the end of a normal shift without putting in for overtime pay one night, but arrive two hours late on another morning because of a parent-teacher conference. In such settings, employers may easily wring out extra hours from their workers.

Many corporate officials and lawyers deny that off-the-clock work is prevalent. Companies often assert that senior executives knew nothing about unpaid work and that lower-level managers were responsible.

"The amount of off-the-clock work is significantly lower than the plaintiffs' bar would lead you to believe," said Joel Cohn, a lawyer who has represented Wal-Mart and many other companies on labor matters. "There are certainly cases where individuals have worked off the clock, but it's not with the knowledge or approval of the employer."

Executives at many companies acknowledge that their policies encourage store managers to cut costs, but they insist those policies in no way encourage off-the-clock work. These companies say they repeatedly tell managers to comply with the law and to make sure employees record all hours worked.

Steven Drapkin, a lawyer for the Employers Group, an association of 5,000 companies, said, "In most cases, the allegations you hear about involve individual managers who are acting to enhance the profitability of their own units, rather than reflecting any companywide practices or policies."

But plaintiffs' lawyers assert that many companies have adopted policies that they know or should know will encourage off-the-clock work. Some managers receive bigger bonuses for cutting labor costs deeply or are threatened with dismissal if they exceed payroll targets.

Adam T. Klein, a lawyer who has brought off-the-clock lawsuits against A&P and J. P. Morgan Chase, said many companies pushed for such unpaid work because it is an easy way to bolster profits.

Working for the Bottom Line

"Corporate profits are derived from efficiency, and every extra minute off the clock they can squeeze out of a worker generates profits to the bottom line," he said. "Some companies have even institutionalized the notion that preshift and postshift work doesn't have to be compensated."

Eileen Appelbaum, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University and an editor of "Low-Wage America," a book of essays about the workplace, said more people work off the clock because job insecurity makes them increasingly eager to please management.

"One big reason for off-the-clock work is people are really worried about their jobs," she said.

Barbara Parkinson, who retired from J. P. Morgan Chase after 21 years, said that from 1998 to 2002, she faced tremendous pressures to work off the clock. Ms. Parkinson, who was a customer service representative in the global investment services department in Brooklyn, said managers had repeatedly complained and reprimanded workers when they submitted time sheets with overtime.

"You didn't want to look bad, so you would work extra hours and not record it," she said. "You wouldn't be compensated for it. It was a bad situation."

She said she typically worked from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., but to avoid reprimands, she often wrote on her time sheet that she had left at 5:30, shortchanging herself of 90 minutes' overtime. Ms. Parkinson, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against J. P. Morgan Chase, said her managers knew about this illegal practice, but turned a blind eye because it helped their units get more work done within budget.

"They never said it was wrong," she said. "They were glad about this because it made them look good."

Judith B. Miller, a spokeswoman for the bank, said, "J. P. Morgan Chase pays its employees in full compliance with the law."

Managers often persuade their subordinates to work off the clock by promising promotions and other rewards or by threatening those who refuse with demotions or fewer paid hours, say professors who study business and labor practices.

Wilfredo Brewster said he frequently worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., sometimes even to 10:30 p.m., as the customer service manager at an A&P supermarket in Greenburgh, N.Y. He said he sometimes worked all day Saturday without clocking in at all.

He described a mixture of coaxing and pressure by the store manager, who said he should show his loyalty to A&P by clocking no more than 40 hours a week, even when he worked 70 hours or more.

"When I start working at the company, they give me an opportunity," said Mr. Brewster, an immigrant from Panama. "These guys say, 'You could be a store manager someday.' But my friends said: 'You're crazy. Why are you doing this?' I said, 'I'm being loyal to my company.' "

Mr. Brewster said that when he was not promoted to store manager after working hundreds of hours off the clock, he felt betrayed and quit.

"They used me," he said.

Employees and managers at many call centers say off-the-clock work is endemic. Rosemarie Russell, who worked from September 2002 through February 2004 at a center in Niagara Falls that handles queries and complaints for Verizon Wireless, said the center's 200 customer service representatives were required to show up 15 minutes before their shift began and to complete paperwork after their shift ended.

Ms. Russell said managers at the center, run by TeleTech Holding, ordered everyone to arrive early to start their computers and software so they could begin taking calls the second their shift began.

"No one likes working off the clock, especially not 20 minutes a day," Ms. Russell said. "A lot of people complained to supervisors and site directors, but they'd just say, 'If you worked at a Burger King, you'd be required to show up in your uniform fully ready to work.' They considered the computer to be like our uniform."

Ms. Russell said she had considered, then ruled out, complaining to government officials, fearing retaliation by her bosses.

"I'm a single mom," she said. "I can't afford to be fired. I don't know if you've ever been in western New York, but it's the type of place where if you don't have a master's degree, all it is is Burger King or McDonald's jobs."

Mr. Robinson, the Labor Department official, said government regulators investigating off-the-clock work take pains not to tell companies which employee has lodged a complaint.

Several former TeleTech managers said in affidavits that headquarters forced them to require off-the-clock work. Kevin Bingham, who was Operation Command Center manager at a TeleTech call center in Topeka, Kan., said that employees were required to arrive about 15 minutes early and that the time "was intentionally not recorded and not paid by TeleTech."

He said that some managers had complained, but that TeleTech's senior managers had said, "That's the way it's going to be."

Firing Those Who Complain

Michael Gregory, who was TeleTech's second-highest-ranking manager in Topeka, said: "Working off the clock was a condition of a c.s.r.'s employment. Hourly workers who complained were weeded out and terminated."

Julie Lucas, a TeleTech spokeswoman, said the company would not discuss details of a pending lawsuit. But she added, "When we have the opportunity to air the true and complete facts - as opposed to the initial allegations - it will be apparent that we have fairly treated our employees.''

Kimberly Owens, who oversaw 13 salons in Oklahoma for SmartStyle, the company Ms. LeBlue worked for, said the company's policy was to order stylists off the clock when business was slow.

The stylists were supposed to be paid the higher of their commissions- about 45 percent of their receipts - or the hourly wages due them. But if the commissions were lower than the sum of their weekly wages, managers told them to go off the clock to reduce their pay.

"They just wanted to increase profits," Ms. Owens said. "They weren't losing money. They all knew it was illegal."

When she was a salon manager, she was told to clock no more than 35 hours a week, she said. "If you showed too many hours, you'd get a write-up or you'd get terminated."

SmartStyle said its executives had sent memos telling managers not to demand off-the-clock work. "SmartStyle actively seeks to prevent off-the-clock work," said Ms. Drake, the company's lawyer. "In fact, regional managers and area supervisors are required to audit their salons for improper recording of hours."

Ms. LeBlue said she worked hundreds of hours off the clock as both a stylist and a salon manager in Harvey, La., from 2000 to 2003. As a salon manager, she said, her area supervisor pressured her to make her stylists work while being clocked out.

"It was really difficult," she said. "You're caught between what your area supervisor wants and what you think is fair for the girls."

Ms. LeBlue said she so disliked forcing subordinates to work off the clock that she asked to be demoted from salon manager back to stylist. She now works for a different salon company.

Absenteeism in call centres

Workers become quite ill working in call centers.

It probably should not be surprising that absenteeism is a problem in some call centres.

Professional call centre specialists know that while some call centres create very fulfilling workplaces for agents, there are others that still today provide a less than ideal environment.

And where workers are stuck in an unfriendly environment, apart from the problem of unacceptable staff turnover rates, absenteeism is likely to be too high.

While staff turnover rates may be on the way down for some centres, many commentators are suggesting that sick leave is increasing across the call centre industry. In some cases, the figure being suggested is around 40% more absenteeism now compared with five years ago.

To begin, it is important that attendance records be reviewed to be sure that an employee's sick-leave days are excessive compared to other employees. If a supervisor suspects that an employee is excessively absent, this can be confirmed through reviewing the attendance records.

If all indications show that an employee is excessively absent, the next step is to gather as much information as possible in order to get a clearer picture of the situation. The files for the individual should be reviewed and the immediate supervisor should document all available information on the particular employee's history.

It seems that the main reasons for unplanned absences include personal or family illness, work conditions and stress, and a sense of entitlement.

Call centres typically have a higher rate of unplanned absences to deal with, which increases workplace stress and decreases morale, as remaining employees are stretched thin to cover for absent co-workers.

Some medical doctors with specialist expertise and experience in workplace health, suggest that employees who work in call centres can be four times more likely than other employees to miss work for psychiatric conditions such as stress or depression.

In most call centres, the main causes of absenteeism include:

  • Too much focus on quantity rather than quality of customer service;
  • Abusive customers;
  • An overuse of call monitoring, particularly where this is used punitively;
  • Inadequate equipment that does not enable agents to do the job they are expected to do;
  • Equipment failure; and
  • Unsupportive management.

Some of the most effective techniques for reducing absenteeism are nothing more than good management. Thoughtful management of call centre people can go a long way towards improving attendance levels. Normally, such effective management would include:

  • Listening to employee suggestions;
  • Providing more training and relevant support;
  • Decreasing the emphasis on statistics which focus on quantity not quality; and
  • Improving the ‘people attitude’ of managers and supervisors.

In addition to absenteeism, there is now also presenteeism. This is an issue that has only recently been studied and measured. However, although it is a new word, it is not a new concept.

Presenteeism is defined as the occurrence of employees reporting to work when they are sick, and therefore unproductive while they are there. In addition to their own issues, these employees can pose a health risk to co-workers. In some call centres, dealing with individuals performing at less-than-optimal levels, often comes second to dealing with unscheduled absences, if any attention is paid to it at all.

Call centres 'bad for India'

11 December, 2003,

The mass transfer of call centre jobs from Europe and North America to India is bad for the subcontinent, a leading Indian newspaper writer has warned.

The huge growth in India's call centre industry was highlighted again last week, as British company Norwich Union announced they would be cutting 2,350 UK jobs and relocating them.

But author Praful Bidwai said that in effect the centres reduced the young Indian undergraduates to "cyber-coolies."

"They work extremely long hours badly paid, in extremely stressful conditions, and most have absolutely no opportunities for any kind of advancement in their careers," Mr Bidwai told BBC World Service's One Planet programme.

"It's a dead end, it's a complete cul-de-sac. It's a perfect sweatshop scenario, except that you're working with computers and electronic equipment rather than looms or whatever."

'Irrational exuberance'

In just three years, the number of centres has risen from 50 to 800 as Western companies have sought to take advantage of cheaper operating costs - estimated to be about 30-40% lower than in the UK. Average call centre salaries in the UK are about £12,500 ($22,000) a year, compared with £1,200 ($2,100) in India.

But Mr Bidwai said that call centres were exploiting young English-speaking Indians who "have an undergraduate degree and nowhere else to go."

"The tragic thing about India and the Indian economy is that in the last couple of decades, the GDP growth rate has actually improved, but joblessness has actually grown."

The call centre industry is seen by some as a vital part of India's economic development.

But Mr Bidwai said it had little value to India's wider economy.

"It's a couple of billion dollars a year at the moment, which isn't a hell of a lot, even by Indian standards," he argued.

"Our exports of textiles, for instance, are much, much bigger.

"There is a kind of irrational exuberance about the prospects of this kind of low-paid, low-value-addition work which creates this content both here and in the West, where people are losing jobs.

"People in India... [find] the job isn't really worth their while.

"Very large numbers of them suffer from a range of ailments - for instance sleeplessness, serious depression, ear infections - so you have a very high rate of [staff] turnover."

He also said the Indian government was pinning too much of India's future on the industry as a "catch-all" solution to the country's problems.

"It's being hyped-up. Some of our leaders are looking for shortcuts to the sort of hard task where you actually address the basic needs of the millions who are in a state of depravation," Mr Bidwai stated.

"They're looking at call centres as a kind of magic wand, and I think that's actually evading and ducking the real issues that confront the country - those are to do with poverty, equal opportunity, illiteracy.

"Those have to be addressed centrally."


The criticisms were acknowledged by Assim Hander, recruitment manager at Excel, a Delhi call centre, which includes Dell computers among its clients.

But Mr Hander said that it was also important to stress the benefits that the centres had brought.

"You also have to look at the positives," he told One Planet.

He said that the call centre industry had been beneficial "in terms of the employment it has generated - and the number of people it has generated it for."

And he said that it was for the undergraduates to at least be employed.

"I would say it's a positive. Let's take a scenario where there was no call centre industry in India. What would these people be doing?

"Today, there is the demand for 150,000 graduates to be employed in an industry which was none-existent five years back."

He also said that although the industry has been mostly concentrated in Delhi, the jobs were now being spread throughout the country.

"Because of the fact that the demand for call centre executives in increasing day by day, the supply from Delhi is getting lower and lower," he stated.

"What we have done is to... move into smaller towns. Over the last three months, almost 60% of our total hiring has been done through these outstation offices."

Call center cause of mental disorder?

Touted as the country’s leading source of employment, call centers are now also considered a threat to the health of many young professionals.

Occupational health experts warned yesterday of a possible rise in the prevalence of mental disorder and other diseases due to the growing number of call centers in the country.

Dr. Dulce Gust, Occupational Safety and Health Center (OSHC) executive director, said call center agents are at great risk of suffering from anxiety, stress, muscoloskeletal disorder and eye problems aside from hearing disorder caused by continuous telephone use.

Gust noted that OSHC, an attached-agency of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), has been conducting studies on the safety and health conditions among workers in call centers since 2002.

While the job of a call center agent may seem harmless, Gust said, the profession is actually very stressful because the young workers are commonly exposed to irate clients.

“In the study we have undertaken, agents reported severe anxiety at work that prompted them to seek emergency treatment due to difficulty in breathing,” Gust further disclosed.

Aside from psycho-social disorders, Gust said, call center agents are also prone to suffer from physical disorders like neck, shoulder and back pains as a result of long hours of sitting and use of computers.

“Computer-related health disorders (are) the biggest concern among young call center agents,” Gust said.

Labor undersecretary for social protection Romeo Lagman said there are over a hundred call centers nationwide, which currently employ some 175,000 young workers.

Lagman said the Philippines is the now the world’s leading manpower provider for call centers but the government is working for the hiring of more Filipinos in the sector.

The projected rise in number of call center agents, Gust said, could also bring about substantial growth in the incidence of work-related diseases.

To prevent possible rise in the incidence of anxiety and other diseases related to working in call centers, OSHC has developed a training program and technical guidelines for the sector.

Gust said OSHC is now working with management of call centers in identifying hazards and risks as well as taking the necessary measures to contain and manage occupational health risks in the workplace.