Los Angeles Wage and Overtime Attorneys
Wage and Overtime
The laws governing wages and overtime in the United States exist to guarantee that employees receive fair pay for the work they do. These laws also include stipulations that apply to certain protected groups of people, such as pregnant women, minors, or individuals with disabilities. Every employee in the United States workforce has the right to fair pay and reasonable working accommodations under federal and state laws.
It is important for workers in Los Angeles to familiarize themselves with the employment laws concerning wages and overtime at federal and state levels. When employers violate wage and hour laws, they are depriving employees of rightfully earned wages and often cause them undue financial harm. It is important that such employers are held accountable so similar incidents do not happen in future.
The Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes all federal rules and regulations concerning wage rates, overtime, child labor, and company recordkeeping. FLSA sets the federal minimum wage, which is the minimum hourly rate employers are permitted to pay employees. Additionally, under the FLSA, any work past 40 hours in one workweek must be paid at one and one-half (150%) of the employee’s base hourly rate. For example, if an employee’s hourly wage is $10 per hour, then his or her overtime rate would be $15 per hour for every hour worked in a workweek past 40 hours.
Who Is Covered?
FLSA rules apply to every private or government employer with annual sales totaling more than $500,000 per year, or such employers who conduct business across state lines. This may sound very specific, but it applies to virtually every American employer. Even if they do not do more than $500,000 worth of business in a year, almost every employer engages in the legal definition of “interstate commerce” – or doing business across state lines.
Interstate commerce includes using the United States Postal Service to send or receive mail or communicating with distributors, suppliers, business partners, or customers in other states via phone or internet. There are few exemptions for FLSA requirements. One example would be small, privately owned farms that use very little outside paid labor. Another exempt group are salaried employees, or employees who qualify as “executive, professional, or administrative workers,” under FLSA.
The logic behind exempting such employees is that they are salaried instead hourly, and that salary adequately compensates any extra responsibilities that may extend their working time in a given week past 40 hours. Another perk salaried employees enjoy is that paychecks may only be docked for complete days of absence not covered by accrued paid leave days. Some employers may try to have it both ways – they will deny overtime pay by claiming the employee is exempt while simultaneously docking unqualified time from the employee’s paycheck. This is a violation of FLSA.
Wage and Hour Violations
If an employer violates an employee’s FLSA rights to fair wages and working hours, that employer may be held accountable for any financial damages the employee suffers as a result. Some of the ways in which an employer might violate FLSA wage and hour laws include employee classifications, clocked hours, contractors, child and teen employees, industries that require protective clothing and gear, breaks, and wages for tipped employees.
An employee’s status as exempt or nonexempt must be clearly communicated to him or her during the onboarding process, and the employee must agree to the terms before starting employment. If an employer applies nonexempt wage and hour practices to an exempt employee or vice versa, it can be held liable for violating the FLSA. Only certain types of employees are exempt from this regulation. The majority of the American workforce consists of nonexempt employees who must be paid accordingly.
Independent contractors (also known as “freelancers”) typically set their own rates for their work and will draft a contract for working with a business or other employer. Such contracts typically stipulate the nature of the work that the contractor will perform, the length of the relationship, and how the contractor will be paid for his or her time. It is very important for employers to properly classify their employees, as misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor is illegal under FLSA.
Additionally, an employer who violated the terms of a contract with an independent contractor may find itself entangled in a breach of contract lawsuit. Contracts are legally binding in most cases. If one party does not fulfill its end of the contract, the other party may file a lawsuit for the breach and damages.
Off the Clock Overtime
Some employers may attempt to avoid paying employees proper wages by not logging the employee’s time worked. Working “off the clock” is illegal. Nonexempt employees are protected under FLSA and are entitled to pay for all hours worked. If those exceed 40 hours in any given workweek, the employer must pay the employee the appropriate overtime rate for his or her work.
It is important for employers to realize that even enthusiastic employees who are eager to work unpaid overtime of their own volition could render the employer in violation of FLSA. Employers must protect themselves by paying employees for all time worked in every circumstance.
Unpaid On-Duty Meal and Rest Breaks
There are specific guidelines concerning rest and meal breaks that typically revolve around hours worked in a day. For example, an employer must permit employees a 30-minute meal break for every five hours worked (unless the total shift is no more than six hours and both the employer and employee agree to skip the break). Additionally, a break may only be unpaid if the employee is relieved of all job duties during the break time.
Break Time for Nursing Mothers
Some mothers return to work after maternity leave but still choose to breastfeed. As they cannot be with their child all day, many mothers use breast pumps so they can safely express breast milk and save it for their babies. FLSA has clear guidelines for employers when it comes to the rights of nursing mothers.
A nursing mother must be allowed break times whenever necessary to pump milk at work. Additionally, the employer must provide the nursing mother access to a room in which she may pump without any interruptions or intrusions. Such a room must be enclosed from outside view, lockable, and not a bathroom.
Donning & Doffing
Some work requires the use of protective clothing and equipment. “Donning” refers to an employee putting on such gear before commencing work. “Doffing” describes removing the gear once a shift is over. In some industries, such as meat processing and agricultural, this gear is necessary not only for the safety of workers but to ensure the safety of the products handled. Under FLSA, employees must be compensated for all actions necessary to their essential job functions.
In many industries, protective equipment is necessary for safe operations. If donning and doffing are necessary to ensure the safety of workers handling potentially dangerous substances or working in hazardous environments, or to ensure the quality of a product, such actions are protected under FLSA. Employers must pay workers for their time spent donning and doffing work-related clothing and equipment.
Many service industry employees, such as waiters, waitresses, cooks, and bellhops, earn the bulk of their incomes from tips. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is much lower than the standard minimum wage, and the logic behind this is that their tips will make up the difference or more.
It is vital for employers to remember, however, that tipped employees must still meet FLSA wage standards through their lower hourly rate and their tips. If a tipped employee does not meet this requirement, the employer must make up the difference so that the tipped employee earns the minimum wage rate for his or her work.
The agricultural industry has a few unique considerations under FLSA compared to other industries. FLSA dictates that farm workers must be paid no less than the federal minimum wage for their work as long as the farm employs 500 hours’ worth of labor in a year. Smaller farms that do not meet this minimum are not beholden to minimum wage laws. Additionally, FLSA does not apply the same overtime provisions to farm work as with other industries.
Home Care Workers
Caregivers have some unique considerations if they provide direct care to patients in their homes. FLSA wage and overtime standards apply differently depending on the nature of the employment. For example, a private employment paid directly by the individual receiving care may or may not entitle the worker to the federal minimum wage and overtime pay. If the home care worker is employed by an agency or any other employer other than the patient receiving care, he or she is protected under FLSA law and must be paid at least the federal minimum wage and overtime when applicable.
Minors and Teens
In past years, children were often coerced into the workforce, often for extremely low wages and in dangerous conditions. FLSA has enacted several laws that protect the rights of children to prevent exploitation or interference with their educational opportunities. Some children under the age of 18 are permitted to have gainful employment, but employers must adhere to the child labor laws. If they do not, they face heavy penalties.
The absolute minimum age at which a child may be employed is 14 years old. Children under the age of 16 are limited both in the number of hours and the fields in which they may work. Typically, any type of inherently hazardous work, such as heavy equipment operation, motor vehicle service, excavation, mining, and other potentially dangerous fields, is not acceptable for minors.
There are some exceptions to the child labor laws, where children are permitted to work with no minimum age requirement. This is a common scenario for families who operate farms or agricultural businesses, where many children start helping with chores at a young age and gradually progress to gainful employment from their parents. Children may work for their parents or legal guardians as long as that industry does not have a minimum age requirement. For example, manufacturing and mining would not be acceptable work for children even under the employment of parents, as these industries have a minimum age requirement of 18.
Wage & Hour Class Actions (And How They Are Formed)
When an employee discovers that his or her employer has been underpaying, or that the employer violated wage and hour laws, the worker may file a lawsuit against the employer. This often entails securing documentation that proves the employment agreement between the employee and the employer, employer timekeeping records, and other documentation. However, when an employer does engage in illegal pay practices, several employees are often affected.
When several people share a grievance against the same entity, the group may form what is known as a class action lawsuit. It is usually much wiser for such a group to pursue a single court action rather than numerous individual lawsuits. A class action lawsuit helps plaintiffs reduce their legal costs.
Many employers have the resources to hire several attorneys, and others retain an in-house legal team. An employee would likely incur significant legal costs if he or she tried to pursue a lawsuit alone. Additionally, an employee’s claim for owed back pay may not be a large enough amount to warrant a lawsuit. When numerous employees in the same situation come together in a class action lawsuit, their cumulative losses are counted together in the legal proceedings.
Forming a class action lawsuit for wage and hour law violations requires the plaintiffs to determine whether the other employees involved were “similarly situated,” meaning they were employed under similar terms and suffered similar losses. One employee may start a class action lawsuit by filing for collective action status with the court. If approved, the plaintiff will notify other potential plaintiffs to offer them the opportunity to opt-in to the class action. If the class action lawsuit succeeds, the final amount of compensation is divided among the plaintiffs.
Winning a Wage and Hour Lawsuit
Whether you participate in a class-action lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs against a single defendant or pursue a lawsuit on your own, it is vital to understand how wage and hour lawsuits generally work and what type of compensation you might expect.
Most employers will elect to settle such disputes rather than risk potentially expensive litigation. Lawsuits can cost employers millions of dollars to manage and typically damage the company’s reputation. When an employer settles a wage and hour case, the damages almost always include back pay for what the employee or employees should have rightfully been paid under FLSA. Additionally, FLSA often allows liquidated damages to be paid to the plaintiffs in the amount of what is owed in back pay. This basically allows plaintiffs to recover double what they are owed in damages.
Many wage and hour class action lawsuits will also entail changes in company policy. For example, a company that was illegally classifying nonexempt employees as independent contractors will likely need to precisely define their employees’ status and develop clear guidelines for wages.
Retain Legal Representation
If you believe that your employer has violated your rights, take action as soon as possible. You can file a wage claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or you can file a lawsuit in court. If you file a claim with the state, there will be a hearing before a Deputy Labor Commissioner. Either way, a Los Angeles wage and overtime attorney will be a valuable asset if you need to file a claim or a lawsuit against an employer who is in violation of FLSA or California state labor laws. In addition to back pay, your wage and overtime lawyer will help you determine what other compensation may be available to you. Many wage and hour lawsuits uncover issues, such as workplace discrimination, tax law violations, and other illegal activities, often found in workplaces.
Mathew & George is committed to providing every one of our clients with tenacious and comprehensive legal counsel. Our team will thoroughly investigate all aspects of your case to ensure you are properly represented. Additionally, our firm maintains a limited caseload. While some firms take as many cases as possible to make money, our firm chooses cases more carefully in order to provide every client with the full range of our abilities and resources.
Wage and hour disputes can grow into complex litigation very quickly, so it is important that you have reliable legal counsel on your side. Additionally, if you’re thinking about opting in to a class action lawsuit, our team can help you determine if doing so would be in your best interest. If you have any questions about FLSA or California state wage and hour laws, reach out to our team. We can help you determine whether your situation merits a lawsuit in a free, no-obligation consultation with our team.