The Fair Labor Standards Act – a Formidable Opponent to Employers

Recently, a client approached us after losing his job as a cashier at a convenience store.  He contended that he had been terminated over religious differences with his boss and coworkers.  Our client was Hindu and his coworkers Muslim.  As a result, he felt that he was routinely given the worst tasks of all of the staff, and ultimately, that he was fired for complaining about the discriminatory treatment.

This client relied heavily on his steady income and was suffering from its sudden loss. We agreed to pursue a claim of wrongful discharge based on religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  In preparing a complaint and computing the damages to the client resulting from the loss of his job, we asked him more about his lost earnings – what was his hourly rate? how many hours did he work in a typical week?  It became Immediately apparent that, not only had the client been unlawfully terminated, but, working 60 – 80 hour weeks at a “straight time” rate of $10.00/hr, he had not been paid overtime (or “time and a half”) for all hours in excess of 40/week in accordance with his rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).   Suddenly, this client’s case became focused on the three years of unpaid overtime to which he was entitled – a clear, easily calculated claim which was not dependent upon proving the discriminatory mindset of the employer.

Once an overtime violation is alleged by an employee, the burden shifts to the employer to disprove the entitlement to overtime and/or back pay. For that reason, FLSA allegations are notoriously difficult to disprove, and such wage and hour claims allow the plaintiff to seek back pay, front pay, attorney’s fees and liquidated damages.

In our client’s case, the violations were so blatant (the pay records, of which our client had copies, clearly showed up to 80 hours of work per week paid at a straight time rate) and serious (thousands of hours of underpaid overtime), that the claim was settled within two weeks and before a complaint was even filed.  The resulting settlement to our client was substantial.

Employers provide slam-dunk FLSA cases for disgruntled employees when they

- fail to pay 1.5x the “regular rate of pay” for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week;

- incorrectly calculate of “regular rate of pay” (which is more complicated than it sounds);

- use “comp time” in lieu of overtime;

- incorrectly classify employees as “exempt” (“exempt”  means more than just “salaried and/or responsible”);

- make automatic deductions from pay for meals and breaks;

- permit, or require, “off the clock” work of any description;

- make deductions from pay for the cost of uniforms, damage to property, loss of property, violations of rules/policies;

- retaliate against an employee who complains of FLSA violations.

Employees who feel that their FLSA rights may have been violated should compile good records of their hours worked and pay received for the previous three years, before speaking to an employment lawyer.  Employers should be proactive in consulting an employment lawyer to confirm they are complying with the FLSA.

Jim Joedecke, Liz Clack-Freeman and Eadaoin Waller represent both employees and employers regarding compliance with Title VII, FLSA and in other areas.  By not limiting their practices to “one side,” they have a unique perspective to “both sides” of a claim or potential danger zone.

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