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Unique situation with a couple questions

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  • Unique situation with a couple questions


    Let me outline my employment situation first. I am a resident of Rhode Island working for a company based in Florida. My work location is in Iraq. We are working as a sub contractor, the contractor we are working for is working for the US Government.

    Prior to going to Iraq we were required to go to Ft Bliss TX where we took care of various administrative tasks such as shots and paperwork. At this time we were also issued and signed for some equipment such as body armor, helmet and sleeping bag etc.

    First issue. What labor laws would i fal under? RI or FL? where do Fed laws play into this?

    The company is telling us that if we quit and go to another company here in Iraq and do not procede to Ft Bliss to out-process then they are will hold our last paycheck. The thought is that the company is doing this to deter people from leaving the company since the equipment that is issued to each individual is the responsibility of the individual and they must pay for lost items. My question is are they allowed to withhold the wages for work already performed?

    Next Issue. I am paid hourly. I am working security for the client which requires me to respond 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We normally work 12 hours a day 6 days a week although at my current location they are paying us for 7 days a week (84 hours) although we actually work 88 hours. So my normal workday consists of taking the client to thier worksite, providing security for them while they work and then taking them back at the end of the day. I then complete 1, 2 hour shift per night 6 days a week and 2, 2 hour shifts 1 day per week. If you do the math that adds up to 88 and we are only paid for 84. When researching the requirement to pay for hours worked i came across this which by my understanding we should be getting paid for our in call time as well. I am i right in thinking this?

    Another issue that has come up about a month and a hold ago we signed timesheets that were for 88 hours, these sheets were changed at the head office by management to reflect 84 hours. They say the overtime wasn't approved after the work had already been done. Unfortunately i do not have a copy of the timesheet. I am assuming this is not legal.

    There are other issues but i will leave it at this for now.

    Any help will be greatly appreciated.

  • #2
    As an expatriate, what US laws apply to you and what "other" laws apply vary. Some extend beyond US borders, but many do not. Iraq is a unique animal in that it is/was basically US occupied and many of the laws that wouldn't normally extend beyond our borders did for a time.

    Of any state law, you would follow FL. How you are contracted also makes a difference. If it is just US funding for a private company (such as Haliburton), the rules are slightly different than for a government agency or contractor (USAID). As there are both providing security in Iraq, it isn't clear which you are. You also mention a client and it isn't clear if the organization that issues your paycheck is subbed out to this client or if you are more general security. I know that I don't have to tell you that you don't want to put a lot of details in your posts, particularly given your field of work.

    If you are working under a govt. contract, for a US Company or US Government agency, your employer needs to pay you for the actual hours you really work. What hours get billed to the government are almost assuredly capped and that is the max that can be charged to the contract but you still must be paid for what was worked. Are the 2 hour overnight shifts and the 2 other shifts part of the 12 hours or not? Are you sure you are being paid hourly and not on a daily rate basis? I ask as it is unusual for government contracts such as yours to specify hourly rates, it is usually done as a daily rate.

    As for leaving and not returning materials, it isn't illegal to threaten to withold pay or even to recoup the funds from yur final check, but they can not just keep the whole thing out of spite.
    I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.


    • #3
      First thank you for the response.

      Let me see if i can clarify.

      The company we are Sub under is working for the DoD. They provide services under their contract with DoD and they have hired us (as opposed to having their own security section within the company which is also common) to provice security for them while they work, which is no doubt a requirement of their contract with DoD. All of our equipment is "owned" by the DoD agency, Weapons, Vehicles, Night Vision, etc. My paycheck is issued to me from my company and I assume they charge the Prime for the hours we work.

      On paper (timesheets) we work 7, 12 hour days in reality we work the configuration I explained earlier. We do this to get coverage at night since we are remote with no military support. There are management issues and politics involved with this and it can be a bit of a long story. But we have made due with the authorized hours we have been given.

      We are in fact on an hourly rate, there are many companies here that charge day rates and is very common. I assume this is to prevent any problems with having to get up in the middle of the night because something is happening. That is why i am questioning whether or not we should be paid for our on call time as well, minus sleep time possibly.

      the two hours are not part of the twelve we work 14 hours a day 6 days a week and 4 hours a day one day a week.

      To clarify the leaving and not returning the equipment issue. The equipment is not issued by the company. It is issued to me personnaly. For example if i were not to go to Ft Bliss the government will come after me for the cost of the equipment most likely deducting it from my Tax return, much the same they do with ex-service members that they find owe the government money.

      I know they have withheld money from some people in the past until they have cleared and out processed. My question is if they attempt to do this to anyone else is there legal recourse. Going off what you said about FL being the State in which we would go to we'd probably have a tough fight ahead of us.


      • #4
        Gotcha. I used to work for an NGO that operated under a USAID contract in Iraq so I'm all too familiar with the challenges. You are correct that security is part of their contract, and I can fully understand subbing this out as I've been in the unenviable position of trying to recruit and hire security personnel for Iraq.

        Most government contracts operate on the daily rate basis for staffing purposes. Hourly is much more common in private sector companies. As you have experienced, it can lead to issues if the contract is per day but you are functioning per hour. That said, if your time "on call" is more or less your own, and you need only respond to emergencies, that time doesn't count as compensible hours worked. Neither does sleep time. I'm not sure how your operation is set up, and please don't share that here, but I'll assume your situation is similar to most with a compound of sorts. If you are able to do as you wish during your two hours except sleep, then it need not be paid unless you are responding to a call. If you are operating this way for your own security reasons, it is also not work time. If you are doing so at your client's behest, and are actually patroling, it would be.

        Before calling the DOL to report a pay violation, I'd make sure that the home office understands how you are really working. You'd be amazed what those of us at HQ don't actually know about that employees in the field think we do.

        If the supplies you are given are government property, just do yourself a favor and return them. The government takes a very dim view of contractors making off with their supplies. Your company *may* have retrieval of these supplies as part of their contract but I'd be surprised if that was included. Particularly if your company isn't issuing them directly. If your company should withold your paycheck, filing a claim for unpaid wages with the DOL is not very hard at all and not nearly the hassle of explaining to uncle Sam why you still have government property after you left.

        Stay safe.
        I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.


        • #5
          The equipment issues arise when you leave the company to work for another, The gear will be turned in when you finally decide to leave Iraq. I didn't mean for it to sound like I would keep the equipment and go home and go to turn it in when i felt like it. I was just using the examples for clarification

          As for the work time, I guess what perked my ears was from the link i posted

          Waiting Time: Whether waiting time is time worked under the Act depends upon the particular circumstances. Generally, the facts may show that the employee was engaged to wait (which is work time) or the facts may show that the employee was waiting to be engaged (which is not work time). For example, a secretary who reads a book while waiting for dictation or a fireman who plays checkers while waiting for an alarm is working during such periods of inactivity. These employee have been "engaged to wait."

          In this case i would se myself as the fireman, except the alarm is small arms or mortar fire where it is my job to go towards the problem and not go to safety. I might have to read more on this i guess

          On-Call Time: An employee who is required to remain on call on the employer's premises is working while "on call." An employee who is required to remain on call at home, or who is allowed to leave a message where he/she can be reached, is not working (in most cases) while on call. Additional constraints on the employee's freedom could require this time to be compensated.
          In this case i am living where i work, I am not "allowed" to leave on my own and must stay within the camp.

          I guess i am curious to know how this doesn't apply to me i have no problem if it doesn't, just want to know.

          Also something else i have thought of just now. If it is easily explained how this does not apply, what happens when something does occur and i get out of bed an throw my boots on. And lets say this problem lasts for an hour. Now we normally have to request additional overtime, and it has to be approved. In this case the overtime was not pre approved. What measure of proof needs to be shown that they need to pay us for this time. Example being last night we had to get up to respond to something that turned out to be nothing but it doesn't change the fact that i woke up got my kit on and went outside for 30 minutes. I think this should be time we are paid for.

          I should also note that prior to coming here I worked in corporate America and know how things are supposed to be done and i've had a couple issues and the ones i did have were taken care of easily. This is a new animal and i think we are being taken advantage of. The company is in my eyes is not conducting itself in a business like fasion. They somehow think this is still the military and when you are told to jump you jump, not ask well how much are you going to pay me to jump? The fact is we are here to get paid a side benefit is service to the government. I understand this is a unique environment but certain things should be taking place and they don't appear to be. Needless to say i am seeking other employment which is the basis for part of my inquiry. Many of the people i work with don't understand they have rights or don't know where to go look for answers, they are just happy to recieve a paycheck and "see no evil", the company knows this and i think they are taking advantage of it.


          • #6
            In your case, your ability to leave isn't restricted so much by your employer's requirements, but because you value your hide. Dependsing upon where you are, it may even be restricted by the law of the land so to speak (curfews, state department advisories, etc.). I will tell you that Iraq is truly a unique situation and like no other international post I or my former colleagues know of. My former employer had operations in 42 countries and Iraq threw us for a major loop. Even those who have tried to play by the rules have run into problems as the "rules" changed multiples times and in many cases the only rule was that there weren't any rules. OK, not entirely true, but certainly the rules we all knew didn't work. The reasons would take up more bandwidth than I'd care to spend and you'd care to read and it still wouldn't be complete. Needless to say, I'm expecting there to be a LOT of complaints hitting the agencies and courts in the next few years over practices in Iraq and in many cases, it won't be until after those cases are decided that many of us will know if we did the right things after all.

            I guess the above rant was mostly to tell you that the rules of corporate America don't apply. The rules of US Government contracts are largely different for contracts there than they have been in other places in the world and companies are often faced with the choice of violating the contract, violating international law, or violating US law. The short version is that operating in a sovereign nation is different than operating in a UN protectorate (Such as Kosovo) or US occupied territory. Working on a US Government contract or on a contract with the DOD or other agency throws another wrinkle into the mix.

            If you are serious about leaving, and if the practices are questionable when you do, it would be worth a call to the federal DOL (as FL doesn't really have a state DOL any longer and any other agency is likely to play hot potato with your call). Run the scenario by them, and see that they say. I'm sorry I can't be more definitive and I'm 99.9% sure the DOL will NOT buy them keeping your paycheck, but the OT issue and what is and is not work time and permitted by the contract, is a kettle of fish I really am not in a position to advise you on.
            I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.


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