The law firm of Sayfarth and Shaw has analyzed data from the Federal Judicial Center and found that wage-and-hour lawsuits have increased by 432% over the past 20 years. According to the Federal Judicial Center’s annual statistics, the number of workers who are going to court to hold their employers responsible for wage and hour violations increased by 10% from the previous year. The Federal Judicial Center reported that 7,764 federal lawsuits were filed from March 2012 to March of 2013, over the 7,064 that were filed from March of 2011 through March of 2012.
The reason for the increase in wage-and hour lawsuits may be related to downturn of the economy. As the economy slows, corporations are under increased pressure to continue make a massive profit. The S&P 500 companies made an average of $420,000 in profit per each employee in 2011. Profits of this nature are often impossible to maintain when the economy slows down. A common tactic for these corporations is simply try to get more for less from their employees.
An increased awareness by workers of others taking action to hold their employers responsible is another reason for the increased number of these claims. Employees are often extremely fearful of retaliation by their employer if they speak up about the violation. In today’s social media age, individuals are able to access information about other employees who have banded together to take action against companies that are placing profits over people.
Indeed, Walmart, Bank or America, Tyson Foods, and Taco Bell are among the many corporations accused of violating federal wage and hour laws. A recent lawsuit against Tyson Foods found that Tyson Foods had a system of making their employees arrive at work 15 minutes early in order to put on their white lab coats, boots, hair nets, and other working gear. Only after completed were the employees allowed to clock in. After their shift, they were required to clock out, and then take off all their gear and leave it at work before leaving. This resulted in 30 minutes per day of unpaid time per employee, and the lawsuit was brought by more than 12,000 poultry workers. This is 30 minutes per day Tyson was stealing from their employees and their families in the name of increased profits.Tyson was forced to pay $32,000,000 for its wrongful conduct.
Wage-and-hour lawsuits come in many different forms, some examples of which include:
- Overtime Unpaid: Often employers will simply pay an employee their regular rate of pay when they are forced to work over 40 hours in a 7 day period. Federal law requires an employee be paid 1.5 times his or her normal hourly wage for overtime. Other times an employer will simply miscalculate the overtime owed hoping the employee will not notice.
- Paying Under Minimum Wage: The federal government requires employees be paid a minimum of $7.25 per hour worked. Some employers simply try to pay under this amount, while other employers use tactics like making an employee pay for the check when a customer walks out, or requiring employees to be responsible for various expenses which the employer should pay. Using these sorts of tactics, an employee may be paid $7.25 per hour, but after paying for costs they are not responsible for, their pay received is under the mandated amount.
- Unpaid Breaks: Several recent wage-and-hour lawsuits have revolved around employers deducting employees time for lunch and breaks that were never actually taken.
- Unpaid Activities Before or After Work: Anytime an employer mandates you must perform a work related activity that is unpaid, such as the Tyson Foods lawsuit mentioned above.
- Unreasonable Deadlines: Additional lawsuits allege that employers will tell their employees that they are not allowed to work overtime. Then the employer will give the employee a job which will clearly take in excess of the employees allotted time left in their 40 hour work week, mandate that the employee has to get it done before they can leave, and simply turn a blind eye to the fact that the employee was forced to work overtime.
- Just Because You Are a Salaried Employee, You Can Still have a Wage-and-Hour Violation: Salaried employees often think that because they receive a salary and not paid hourly, they are not able to pursue a wage-and-hour lawsuit. This not true. Just because an employer calls what they pay you a ‘salary’ does not mean they are able to escape the federal laws with respect to workers rights
While some general categories can be given to these types of claims, they truly can occur in numerous different ways. If are contemplating the question of “Do I have a wage and hour claim”, we are happy to speak to you regarding your set of circumstances. You can also research Federal wage and hour laws set forth on the United States Department of Labor’s website.