Call Center Industry and Wage and Hour Violations

Call Center Employees Affected by Wage Theft

In today’s age of technology and convenience, customer service is often only a phone call or instant message away. With an increasing consumer demand for faster support and quicker turnaround times, it seems that more industries than ever have turned to call centers as a means to provide streamlined service to their customers. Call center employees are essential service providers for customers in need of guidance. Sadly, mistreatment is common.

Unfortunately for Customer Service Representatives (“CSRs”), call centers are one of the most common places for companies to commit wage violations, These violations can be accidental or intentional, depending on the centers management. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), covered nonexempt employees are entitled to receive minimum wage for all hours worked, and overtime compensation at one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.

Today, numerous call centers across a variety of business channels call central Ohio home, including Teleperformance, Call Management Resources, ContactUS Communications, and Total Quality Logistics all operate facilities in the Columbus area. Nationwide, Verizon, DISH, JPMorgan Chase, and Randstad also operate centers in the surrounding vicinity.

FLSA Violations and Call Centers

When centers expect their employees to perform unpaid “off-the-clock” work, problems arise. This type of work is a direct violation of the FLSA. Call center employees must receive paid for time spent performing everyday duties. These duties include:

  • turning on/off computers
  • logging in to programs
  • making pre- or post-call notes
  • attending work-related meetings
  • working through lunch
  • participating in work-related training

If you work in a call center and are not being properly paid wages you have earned, an attorney can help. You can call for a free consultation at 800-274-5927. You may have a viable claim and we can help you determine the best course of action. The team at Barkan Meizlish, LLP is here to help.

 

originally published on March 13th, 2018

The DOL’s Payroll Audit Independent Determination program

Too often, employers take advantage of their employees, with the employer typically leveraging its superior knowledge of the law. Employees forced to resort to legal action against their employers often face powerful and sometimes obstructive employers, but also benefit by representation from fierce attorney advocates who have the employee’s best interests in mind. Unfortunately, a recently announced U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) program may end up hindering employees’ ability to have their day in court with the aid of their chosen advocate.

On March 6, 2018, the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division announced a six-month pilot initiative referred to as the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (“PAID”) program. The PAID program will allow an employer to conduct self-audits of their payroll practices and voluntarily report underpayments to the DOL which, in turn, will supervise the back wage payments. Yet to be tested, the new program is touted as a way for employees to receive the wages they are owed faster without having to wait for litigation and as a means of correcting an employer’s underpayment of wages to employees.

However, the PAID program potentially harms employees more than it will help them. The settlements that the DOL supervises do not mandate liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are an amount paid in addition to unpaid wages. The purpose of liquidated damages is to discourage employers from unlawfully withholding wages, only to pay them if they get caught; in which case the employer essentially enjoys a consequence-immune interest-free loan. Under the apparently employer-friendly PAID program, employers may be able to do a low cost review, and have the DOL approve repayment of back wages without further liability, and without the fierce legal advocate acting on behalf of the employee. Further, employees who submit to this route for reimbursement of their owed wages will give up their right to bring a lawsuit against their employer for the payment of unpaid minimum wages or unpaid overtime compensation.

The National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, said it opposed the program. Judy Conti, a federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project, said the PAID program is an effort to “stack the deck in favor of employers” and acts as a “get out of jail free card” for them.

Note that the program cannot be invoked when the violation is already at issue in litigation, in arbitration, or already under investigation by the DOL/WHD. Also, remember that wage and hour claims under the FLSA are typically subject to a two year statute of limitations, which can only be extended to three years under certain circumstances.

If you feel that you are not being properly paid wages you have earned, call Barkan Meizlish, LLP for a free consultation at 800-274-5927. You may have a viable claim and we can help you determine the best course of action.
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New Year Marks Ohio’s Minimum Wage Increase

On Monday, January 1, 2018, approximately 150,000 Ohio workers received a pay raise. The state’s minimum wage rate increased to $8.30 an hour, up 15 cents from last year.  The $8.30 is now $1.05 above the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 an hour.

For tipped employees, such as waiters and bartenders, the minimum wage rate also increased from $4.08 to $4.15.

Ohio is one of 18 states that ushered in the New Year with minimum wage increases. The change is the result of a state constitutional amendment passed in 2006, which automatically adjusts Ohio’s minimum wage rate each year according to inflation rates.

Pizza Chain Owes

A pizza restaurant chain in Manchester, Connecticut was held liable for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). An investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found that the pizza restaurant chain had violated the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime, and record-keeping requirements between February 2013 and November 2015. The restaurant did not pay one-and-one-half their regular rates of pay to three employees who worked overtime hours up to seventy-five hours per week. Additionally, the restaurant took payroll deductions for cash register shortages that resulted in one employee receiving less than minimum wage. The investigation also found that the restaurant maintained and supplied false time and payroll records and statements to investigators during the current investigation and a prior investigation in 2015.

Additionally, the investigation found that between December 2015 and April 2016, the owner of the restaurant continually pressured one employee to make false statements to investigators, leading the employee to believe he had no choice but to resign. The Department of Labor charged that the owner’s behavior resulted in the worker’s constructive discharge, in violation of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provisions.

Therefore, on November 16, 2017, a United States District Court in Connecticut issued a judgment against Chemro LLC d/b/a People’s Choice, and Defendant Robert Y. Mercier II for back pay in the amount of $67,151.14, which includes minimum wage and overtime payments due, as well as liquidated damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, civil money penalties, and interest. The Court also ordered that the company and its owner comply with the FLSA and “refrain from discharging or discriminating against employees who initiate or cooperate with an FLSA investigation.”

The FLSA requires that most employees receive one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay when they work more than 40 hours in a work week and that employers maintain adequate and accurate records of employees’ wages and work hours. If you feel that you are not being properly paid wages you have earned, you should call our unpaid wages lawyer for a free consultation. You may have a viable claim and we can help you determine the best course of action after thorough consideration of your situation. We can be reached at 800-274-5927.

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Baklava Not Creative?

A Brooklyn federal judge has ruled that baklava chefs’ jobs were not “creative” to meet the Fair Labor Standards Act’s creative professional exemption from overtime pay. The judge held that this exemption requires “innovation and imagination,” not the “consistency and precision” displayed by the Turkish baklava and baked goods chefs when making their tasty treats.

In a decision denying summary judgment to the defendants, the court held that the exemption defense failed because “although defendants adequately demonstrate that plaintiffs were experienced and talented [chefs], defendants [did] not demonstrate how plaintiffs’ experience and talent were applied to an innovative and imaginative task.”
The defendants, Gulluoglu, an entity that sells Turkish food at multiple locations, and its manager, failed to shoulder their burden of proving that its employees fell within the exemption. According to the court, “[d]efendants did not sell their baklava and other baked goods in five-star or gourmet establishments, and plaintiffs, tasked with preparing baklava and other enumerated Turkish baked goods to be sold by third parties, did not have the autonomy to design unique dishes and menu items.”

The plaintiffs, both former baked goods chefs for Gulluoglu, frequently worked 60 hour weeks, but were only paid a fixed weekly salary of $700. Although the plaintiffs’ skills and training were brought up in court, such as a plaintiff serving as an apprentice to a baklava maker in Turkey for seven years, deposition testimony showed that the baklava chef never prepared baklava from scratch. Rather, plaintiff would heat and apply a “sweet syrup” to frozen baklava imported from Turkey. Starting in 2010, however, the baklava was imported pre-cooked, with the syrup glaze already applied. Additionally, the pastry chef’s cakes were not made from scratch, but imported and defrosted.

Defendants argued that “plaintiffs’ talent alone should trigger the exemption.” Yet, the court held that “[t]he regulatory language makes clear that an employee talented at an unimaginative and unoriginal task does not fall within the exemption.”

If you feel that you are not being properly paid wages, you should call our unpaid wages lawyer for a free consultation.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and is titled Eren v. Gulluoglu LLC, Case No. 15-CV-4083.

Virtual Workers and Economic Reality: Independent business owners file FLSA collective action for unpaid wages

Call center service provider Great Virtual Works is facing a collective action complaint for violations of the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) and minimum wage/overtime laws of Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The case alleges that Great Virtual Works misclassified its “independent business owners” as independent contractors, rather than employees.

Great Virtual Works is a corporation headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that provides telephone-based customer service, sales service and technical support to customers of client companies such as Great Healthworks, makers of the dietary supplement Omega XL. The collective claims brought under the FLSA here allegedly apply to similarly situated individuals in other states in a00ddition to Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

The two plaintiffs claim that Great Virtual Works misclassified them in an attempt to avoid paying employees all the hours they spent actually working for the company.  According to the plaintiffs, Great VirtualWorks’ so-called “business owners” are actually individual employees working from their homes, performing hourly-paid work duties such as telephone-based customer service, sales service, and technical support for Great VirtualWorks’ client companies.

The plaintiffs argue that they and other similarly situated individuals were not business owners or independent contractors as labeled by Great VirtualWorks because they did not make significant investments in equipment or materials, exercise any specific skills, or make a significant profit or loss from their work. The plaintiffs state that Great VirtualWorks has at all times of plaintiffs’ employment been in control of their work schedules and activities, relying on them and similarly situated employees to perform an integral part of its business of providing telephone-based customer service, sales service and technical support to other companies.

Specifically, the plaintiffs allege Great VirtualWorks failed to pay them for work performed before, during, and after their shifts, including:

  • connecting to the company from their own homes or places of work, opening computer applications for the company’s telephone-based customer service, sales service and technical support (5-20 minutes);
  • having brief rest breaks (the FLSA says 5-minute to 20-minute breaks must be counted as hours worked);
  • troubleshooting activities when disconnected from the company’s network;
  • shutting down computers and applications at the end of a shift;
  • reviewing emails and completing notes when not engaged in calls but clocked in;
  • completing required online training; and
  • attending mandatory meetings or coaching sessions.

As a result of this unpaid work, the compensation plaintiffs actually received averaged less than the federal minimum wage, as well as the Kentucky and Pennsylvania minimum wage.  Additionally, plaintiffs allege that they did not receive proper overtime compensation at a rate of time-and-a-half of their regular rates of pay. The plaintiffs are now seeking unpaid minimum, overtime, and contractually-owed wages, liquidated damages, attorneys fees and costs, and other remedies they may be entitled to under federal or state law.

The lawsuit is currently stayed pending an an upcoming ruling by the United States Supreme Court on a legal issue relevant to the employees’ claims, which is whether Great Virtual Works can require employees to submit their claims to individual arbitration. The amended collective class action complaint is recorded in Kentucky as Case No. 0:17-cv-00063-HRW. The plaintiffs are represented by the law firms of Barkan Meizlish Handelman Goodin DeRose Wentz, LLP and JTB Law Group, LLC.

If you have questions or information to provide, you may contact the following attorneys:

Trent Taylor; ttaylor@barkanmeizlish.com; (800) 274-5297

Robi Baishnab; rbaishnab@barkanmeizlish.com; (800) 274-5297

Nicholas Conlon; nicholasconlon@jtblawgroup.com; (877) 561-0000

Employee v. Independent Contractor

In order to limit exposure under a state workers’ compensation act, employers often attempt to classify new hires as “independent contractors.” In forming this type of employment, employers often believe that when an employee signs an independent contractor agreement, they are shielded from the liability of workers’ compensation insurance. While these agreements are important, they are not necessarily determinative.

There are several factors courts consider when determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor. However, it should be noted that each jurisdiction has its own statutes and regulations, which govern the employee and independent contractor relationships. As such, one in doubt should refer to their state’s statutes and rules to determine their employment status.

Regardless, the common element that all courts look for in these relationships is the right of “control” as to the means and manner of the job. The following are all considerations.

(1) Level of instruction;

(2) Amount of training;

(3) Degree of business integration;

(4) Method of payment;

(5) The furnishing of work tools and other materials;

(6) Ultimate control over the work environment and where work is completed; and

(7) The right of discharge.

While this list is not exhaustive, it should provide employees a good idea of the factors which go into an independent contractor/employee relationship determination.

Source:http://www.workerscompensation.com/compnewsnetwork/workers-comp-blogwire/20646-independent-contractors-are-you-an-employee.html

Being an Employee vs. Good Friend

Recently, an injured worker was denied the benefits of workers’ compensation, because the Court determined that the injury did not occur in the course of and arising out of her employment. In Power v. Bay Park Community Hosp., 2015 – Ohio – 1272, an employee was assisting a patient to her car, who was also a friend of hers. While leaving to go get the car, the employee’s coat became caught in the patient’s wheelchair, which caused the employee to fall and suffer a right proximal humerus fracture.

Because the employee had already clocked out when she went to assist the patient, the Court concluded the injuries were not sustained in the course of her employment (although within the zone of her employment). The rationale was that the employee was not under the direction of her employer when she went to get her friend, and as a result, the employer received no benefit from her doing so. Id. Thus, by not being on the clock, completing her usual tasks, or under the direction of her employer, the Court determined her injuries did not occur in the course of or arising out of her employment.

Had the employee gone to assist her friend at the direction of a supervisor, or had the employee never checked out, the outcome may be different. However, in this case, the employee’s attempt to be a good friend did not meet the standard to participate in workers’ compensation benefits.

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