Stark County deputies seek pay for meal breaksEleven deputies of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office have demanded they be compensated for meal breaks and a canine handling officer wants more compensation for taking care of the dog, according to letters provided to The Dickinson Press on Monday.
By: Klark Byrd, The Dickinson Press
Eleven deputies of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office have demanded they be compensated for meal breaks and a canine handling officer wants more compensation for taking care of the dog, according to letters provided to The Dickinson Press on Monday.
There is not a lawsuit under way, but two letters to Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy, from Fargo attorney Benjamin Thomas, suggest claims will be filed with the North Dakota Department of Labor if there is no response.
The 11 deputies allegedly “have not been compensated for meal breaks, even though they are required to be available to respond, and frequently do respond, to radio calls during these meal breaks,” which means they were not “completely relieved of duties” for a deductible break, according to the letter.
Deputies are paid $20.60 per hour and would be eligible for five hours of overtime per week, which would account for over $8,000 per year for each deputy, according to the letter.
Thomas has requested a response by Wednesday for the issue regarding the meal breaks and requested a response by Monday for the issue of the canine compensation.
Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning said a response was sent to Thomas regarding meal breaks, but would not divulge further information, adding that it is not available to the public because of anticipated litigation.
Henning said the law for meal breaks is up for interpretation and would require a judicial decision.
“There are two significant and different theories or patterns of thought on this ‘completely relieved of duty’ idea and the federal courts that have interpreted it in the majority say, ‘well, we are not applying this as completely relieved of duty,’ they kind of say ‘well, who has been the primary beneficiary of this break,’” he said. “It is a question of whose theory do you go with and that remains to be shaken out.”
The deputy responsible for the dog (who was also a client with the meal break complaint) was paid $60 per month prior to February for time spent caring for the canine. However, the letter said handlers should be compensated on an hourly basis, which would be one-half hour of overtime for every day of the year. This would total $5,639 per year, according to the letter.
Henning said the Sheriff’s Department converted to the hourly compensation in February when it learned that was the standard of reimbursement and that the current claim was for previous years.
“This is about back pay,” he said.
The letter requests more than $11,000 for incorrect payment for the previous three years. However, Henning said a claim of three years can only be enforced if the violation was intentional, which he does not believe it was.
Henning said he will likely work with the Sheriff’s Department and Stark County commissioners during an executive session at the Stark County Commission meeting today to come up with a response for the requests.
Commissioners, deputies and attorneys were either unavailable or declined comment on Monday.