Employers are under increasing pressure to cut costs. More often than not, employers increasingly look to concessions and reductions from their employees in order to achieve those savings. Some employers in fact cheat their employees in order to improve an employer’s bottom line.
The Fair Labor Standards Act, or the FLSA, was enacted by Congress in 1938 in order to establish minimum employment compensation standards across the nation and in order to provide a modicum of protection for employees from cut throat employers seeking to erode those minimum standards.
In very broad terms, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to carry out two essential duties when it comes to the compensation of their employees. First, employers must pay their employees a minimum wage. Second, an employer cannot work an employee longer than forty hours in a workweek unless the employer pays the employee time and one half the regular rate for all hours over forty. This guarantee is what is commonly known as overtime.
At first glance, these principles appear to be straightforward and relatively easy to apply and follow. However, Congress needlessly complicated matters by creating a series of exemptions from the protections of the FLSA for a variety of employment classifications.
Furthermore, unlike claims arising under the National Labor Relations Act, which are by law entrusted to a central body, the National Labor Relations Board, for relatively consistent adjudication, enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act depends primarily upon employees taking action into their own hands by retaining an attorney and suing an employer in order to protect their rights. Thus, more often than not, an employee cheated out of his or her overtime, for example, will need to obtain expert legal advise to remedy cheating by an employer.
While it is impossible to describe in depth the myriad cases which might arise under the FLSA, a number of issues have become common as employers feel the need to squeeze their employees and thereby deny to their workers the benefits of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This brief summary is illustrative only and is not intended to, and cannot substitute for, legal advise.
First, many employers classify their workers as so-called independent contractors. This is significant becasue independent contractors are not entitled to minimum wage or overtime, while employees are. As a result, employers will sometimes characterize their employees as independent contractors, when they are really employees, in order to avoid the obligations set forth in the FLSA.
Second, sometimes employers order their employees to clock in and out at set times to avoid showing more than forty hours in a workweek. These cases are commonly known as “off-the-clock” cases. Needless to say, these cases represent attempts by employers to force their employees to work, albeit “off-the-clock,” and avoid either paying employees for those hours or avoiding the payment of overtime for such hours.
Third, a common strategy by employers is to misclassify their employees. As noted above, the FLSA has a series of exemptions which will exempt, in whole or in part, certain job classifications from FLSA coverage. Some employers routinely misclassify their employees in order to wrongfully take advantage of those exemptions and not pay their employees the statutory minimums or overtime.
Fourth, often employers in the restaurant industry take advantage of an exemption which allows employers to pay less than the minimum wage to employees who receive tips. However, in order for an employer to take advantage of this exemption it must satisfy certain conditions called for by the law. It is not surprising that some employers unlawfully short their employees under the rubric of the tipping exemption.
Fifth, many FLSA cases involve issues regarding the number of hours worked, where an employer claims that certain hours are non-compensable. These cases often involve waiting or “on call” time. Other fact patterns involve rest and meal periods and some other cases involve travel time. In all of these scenarios, the Department of Labor has promulgated regulations which attempt ot provide guidance regarding when these activities are compensable or not.
Once an FLSA violation is established in court, an employee is entitled to not only the amounts which were shorted, but in addition is entitled to liquidated damages equal to the shorted amounts. Furthermore, employees are entitled to recover their attorneys fees.
As can be seen from this very brief summary, the Fair Labor Standards Act is a complex net of regulations and rules. While they are designed to assist employees in remedying their rights, they contain many pitfalls for the unwary.
If you have questions regarding the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act to your place of employment, the law offices of Gallon, Takacs, Boissoneault & Schaffer stands ready to review and analyze your situation. Feel free to contact us.
Gallon, Takacs, Boissoneault & Schaffer Co. L.P.A.