Conroe, March 12 – On Friday, March 10, Paul Case, Director of Montgomery County’s Building Maintenance Department, and two of his top managers presented a new “Building Maintenance Department Policies and Procedures Manual” which could spell trouble in the form of overtime and other wage and hour claims due to its bizarre policies. More than a dozen employees of the Department reported the incident to The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, over the weekend.
Case and his managers made clear that County employees who did not agree to and sign the new policy manual by Monday, March 13, would face termination as employees of Montgomery County. None of the employees had ever seen a policy manual unique to the Building Maintenance Department prior to the staff meeting which occurred this past Friday. While the manual provided to the employees stated that it was “updated March 2017,” the document was new to the employees.
The Building Maintenance Department faces many challenges. It clearly is the worst County Department for nepotism. Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador’s brother, Bill Meador, works there, although most employees are unable to ascertain his duties or job responsibilities.
Also working there is Angela Ford, the daughter of Commissioner Meador’s famous secretary, Jule Puckett, who makes over $130,000 per year in compensation, in addition to County benefits. Deputy Department Director Rob Wright’s entire immediate family works in the Building Maintenance Department as employees directly under the father’s supervision. Similarly, Director Paul Case’s son, Craig Case, also works in the Building Maintenance Department and earns $91,000 per year in salary as a less-than-full-time welder.
During the summer of 2016, several of the employees of the Department filed grievances with the Human Resources Department for what they claimed were mismanagement practices as well as violations of Texas licensing standards. The County denied all of those grievances. In December, 2016, and early January, 2017, major problems with asbestos exposure, the “Asbestos-Gate” scandal, swept through the Department when Case ordered several employees to demolish some interior walls in the main Montgomery County Courthouse building. See “Asbestos-Gate Continues With A Coverup: Building Maintenance Director Case, County Judge Doyal Join Forces To Hide Asbestos “Health Risk to County Employees And The Public,” (The Golden Hammer, February 22, 2017).
The secret environmental report, which Case and County Judge Craig Doyal attempted to hide from the public, revealed that an asbestos exposure incident occurred between December 30, 2016, and January 9, 2017, when airborne friable chrysotile 6 asbestos fibers swept into the HVAC intake ducts above what is now the 410th District Court of District Judge Jennifer Robin.
Fair Labor Standards Act compliance problems
The policy manual, which County Judge Craig Doyal ordered, his personal County Attorney Jerry Don “Ice Man” Lambright approved, and Case disseminated to the employees, contains at least two major issues that would potentially violated the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). First, many Building Maintenance Department employees drive County vehicles to work and back home in the evening. The County provides the fuel for those vehicles. The policy manual, however, mandates that “If a vehicle needs fuel, that must be done in the morning before your assigned start time.”
By requiring employees to fuel their County vehicles in the morning before their start time on the County wage clock begins, the County is forcing County employees to conduct County business without receiving compensation for that work. While those time periods for fueling may constitute brief periods on any one occasion, several fueling occasions could add up to significant uncompensated overtime for which Montgomery County might be liable.
An even greater problem has arisen with a new policy, which Doyal and Case have written into the policy manual concerning sleeping during lunch or break times: “Sleeping or anything that resembles sleeping during working hours (including on breaks or lunch time) is not acceptable” and could subject an employee to termination. While County employees should, of course, not sleep while working, many employees in the Building Maintenance Department go and sit inside their air-conditioned vehicles during the one hour they receive for a lunch break, eat their lunch, and take a nap. Two different employees confirmed to The Golden Hammer that more than a dozen employees regularly sleep during their lunch breaks, especially during the hot summer months, and that their productivity after “power naps” increases enormously.
The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has promulgated a regulation which directly addresses that type of situation: “The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals…The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating.” By requiring certain behavior of the Building Maintenance employees, during their mandated lunch hour each day, even if the employee is off the work premises, it is strongly possible that an employee could claim that he or she should receive compensation for the lunch period, because the employee is not relieved from duty or compliance with the employer’s policies during that period.
Hopefully, Director Case will seek to apply these policies with a fair hand and seek to exclude politicians, such as Doyal, from any decisions internal to the Building Maintenance Department.