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.
(Advertising Material: This Notice is for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice).

No Closed Lid on this Class Action

Lids, a store selling jerseys, hats, and t-shirts, is facing a class-action lawsuit for failing to pay overtime to store managers.  Lids’ managers were paid under a fluctuating work week (“FWW”) method of payment. Under this method of payment, employees are paid a fixed salary amount whether or not they work more or less than 40 hours a week. The FWW method further permits hours worked in excess of 40 hours a week to be compensated at a minimum of one-half time the worker’s regular rate. However, the lawsuit alleges that Lids store managers were not fully compensated for all of the overtime hours they worked and were instead paid a bonus based on meeting sales quotas.

On January 2, 2018, the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied Lids’ motion to dismiss the case and granted the managers’ motion for conditional certification of an opt-in class of current and former store managers. The judge ruled that the lead plaintiff in the case “has made a modest factual showing that she and the potential opt-in plaintiffs were victims of a common policy that violated the FLSA.”

The judge ordered Lids to provide a spreadsheet listing the names and last known addresses of non-exempt store managers who were entitled to overtime pay since Feb. 2, 2014.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and is titled Julia Shumate, on behalf of all others similarly situated v. Genesco, Inc., Hat World Inc., d/b/a Lids Sports Group, 1:17-cv-3574.

 

What is Wage Theft?

Wage Theft remains a serious problem in the United States. The majority of wage theft violations are due to businesses failing to pay minimum wage. Other examples of wage theft include employees who have their tips stolen, those who work “under the table” or off the books, and employees who are forced to clock out and continue working—and these are merely a few examples.

A $50 Billion Issue
Approximately $50 billion dollars in wages are stolen by U.S. employers nationwide every year. That number is enough to provide 1.2 million people with employment and pay them $20 per hour. In comparison, the combined robberies, motor vehicle thefts, larcenies, and burglaries added up to less than $14 billion in 2012.  States, along with the Federal Department of Labor, recovered approximately $933 million in stolen wages that same year, which was less than 2 percent of what was taken from hard-working employees.

More Grim Statistics
An estimated 83 percent of workers who win their wage theft cases do not see a single penny. According to the 2017 Wage Theft Report, the average weekly earnings of a U.S. employee is $339, of which $51 is stolen. This comes to a total of $2,634 out of $17,616 annual earnings. A study focusing on low-wage industry workers in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles found at least two-thirds of these employees dealt with at least one pay violation.

Wage Theft Hurts Women, Immigrants, & Latin Americans the Most
Statistics show that immigrants, women, and Latin Americans get hit the hardest of those suffering from wage theft. Over 30 percent of women have their wages stolen compared to less than 20 percent of men, while Latin American citizens lose over 30 percent more than Asian and white people. More than 30 percent of foreign workers also report stolen wages, in comparison to less than 15 percent of U.S.-born workers.

Fighting Wage Theft
Thankfully, people are fighting the war against wage theft. New York has the strongest anti-wage theft laws in the country, while state attorney generals in 45 states have recovered $14 million in wages back for workers. Private attorneys won $467 million in wage theft class-action suits, and the U.S. Department of Labor recovered $280 million. State departments of labor in 44 states took back $172 million in stolen wages.

Wage and labor laws need to be stronger than ever to get rid of this problem permanently. Will adjudication be enough to slow down or prevent this unjustifiable practice in the future? It’s unlikely, but authorities are doing what they can to at least catch some of the violations.

Department Manager Sues for Unpaid Overtime

A former Urban Outfitters department manager recently filed a lawsuit against the retail clothing company for violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The plaintiff seeks unpaid overtime wages resulting from the store misclassifying her as “exempt” from federal overtime laws. Under the FLSA, non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay, while exempt employees are not. The plaintiff alleges that she regularly worked over 40 hours a week throughout her employment, but did not receive overtime compensation from Urban Outfitters as required by federal law. The lawsuit claims that the plaintiff’s treatment was part of the store’s broad, company-wide policy to minimize labor costs by classifying all department managers as “exempt” from the FLSA’s overtime provisions.

Whether an employee qualifies as exempt depends upon a variety of factors, including the job duties he or she performs—not the employee’s job title. To be exempt from receiving overtime, a manager must exercise a significant degree of independent decision-making that affects the business, direct or supervise the work of other employees, and have the authority to hire and fire employees. According to the lawsuit, the department managers at Urban Outfitters were actually non-exempt because, despite the management job title, they primarily performed manual labor and did not do any hiring, firing, disciplining, supervising, or engaging in any independent judgment and discretion.

Misclassifying employees as exempt is a common way employers can violate the FLSA. Keep in mind that a job title of “manager” or “supervisor” doesn’t necessarily mean you are exempt from receiving overtime. If you are regularly performing non-exempt work, you may be entitled to unpaid overtime wages for up to the past three years, an additional amount in liquidated damages equal to the unpaid overtime, and employment attorney’s fees and costs.

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.

(Advertising Material: This Notice is for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice).

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.

Wage and Hour Violations in the Oil and Gas Industry

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) was designed to protect workers from employers who may otherwise take advantage of their employees. Generally, the FLSA requires employers to pay an overtime premium to non-exempt employees of one and a half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 within a workweek and to also pay at least the minimum wage for all hours worked.  In the rapidly growing oil and gas industry, however, wage and hour violations have become more common as companies seek ways to lower their labor costs. For example:

1. Day Rate Pay Without Overtime

One common type of violation occurs when an employee receives a “day rate” payment without overtime. A “day rate” method of payment is a flat sum for a day’s work without regard to the number of hours worked in the day. Simply paying employees a day rate does not, however, negate the FLSA’s requirement that non-exempt employees receive overtime at a rate of 1.5 times the regular rate for all hours worked over 40. To comply with the FLSA, employers who use this method of compensation must therefore pay non-exempt employees a premium overtime rate. There is often plenty of room for error in calculating an employee’s overtime on a day rate of pay, as this rate can fluctuate depending on the amount of hours worked.

2. Independent Contractor Misclassification

Additionally, some employers try to avoid their obligations under the FLSA by classifying workers as independent contractors, rather than employees. Independent contractors are not subject to the many of the FLSA’s protections, including overtime, so employers often “misclassify” workers to eliminate certain tax obligations or other costs otherwise owed to employees.

This technique is fairly common in the oil and gas industry, where much of the day-to-day work on oil rigs and gas wells is sub-contracted out to other companies. But it is the actual employment relationship—not the label—that controls whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor for the purposes of the FLSA. For example, one of the various tests applied by courts in making this determination (“economic reality test”) takes into consideration 6 different factors: (1) the permanency of the relationship; (2) the degree of skill required; (3) whether the worker contributes services that are an integral part of the business; (4) the employer’s control over the worker; (5) the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss; and (6) the worker’s investment in materials and equipment.

Defining employee status can be complex and it all depends on the circumstances surrounding the employment relationship as a whole. Additionally, misclassification can expose employers to serious liability—including payment of back wages, liquidated damages, and attorney’ fees—when violations are found.

The Pitfalls of Employee Misclassification

The misclassification of employees is both against the law and damaging to the employee and employer. Employees lose significant wages when they are misclassified, while employers are confronted with large class action lawsuits and potentially hefty monetary judgments awarded against them. Generally, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires an employer to pay employees the federally mandated overtime premium rate of one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for every hour worked in excess of forty (40) hours per workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207. However, there are exceptions that apply to workers in certain industries, which can require the worker to receive higher wages or be exempt from receiving overtime pay.

Two recent cases demonstrate the difficulty in classifying employees correctly. For example, a service specialist for Ecolab, Inc., a provider of pest elimination services to commercial and non-commercial customers, brought suit against Ecolab, Inc. claiming he and other service specialists were misclassified as exempt from overtime pay. As a result, the service specialists were not paid the overtime rate of not less than one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek. The employees asked for a class of over 1,000 service specialists to be able to proceed to trial.
Ecolab, Inc. objected, stating certain employees are exempt from overtime pay if they receive “bona fide” commission payments and are paid at least one and one-half times the minimum wage for all hours worked in a week involving overtime hours. Nonetheless, the court certified the class and allowed the jury to decide the following: 1) whether Ecolab correctly classified its employees as exempt; and 2) whether Ecolab’s compensation policy permitted employees to actually earn twice the minimum wage. This case outlines the improper classification of non-exempt employees as exempt employees. Generally, an employee is entitled to overtime when they are not employed in an executive, administrative, or professional capacity, and their true exempt status is determined primarily by their duties. Therefore, exempt employees usually have some type of managerial duties, like hiring, firing, and deciding on employee wages and salaries, as well as creating work policies and procedures. If these duties are not exercised by the worker, then it is likely he or she is non-exempt and should be afforded the protections of the law. Eventually a settlement agreement was reached, whereby Ecolab, Inc. agreed to settle the claims for $7,500,000.

Another example is the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) investigation into DirecTV’s employment practices of how they paid their cable installers. DirecTV and their installation contractor, Advanced Information Systems, were accused of violating the minimum wage, overtime, and record-keeping laws. DirecTV’s payment practices caused the cable installers to be paid on a piece-rate basis, which caused their hourly rates to fall below the federal minimum wage. The installers were not paid overtime at a rate of one and one-half times for hours worked over 40 per week, nor were they paid for all hours worked. Further, the installers were not paid for unsuccessful installations, time in the office, or travel time, and they were not reimbursed for business expenses.

DirecTV claimed the installers were not their employees, but rather employees of DirecTV’s subcontractor Advanced Information Systems. However, the DOL found the installers only worked on DirecTV installations, drove DirecTV vans, wore DirecTV clothing, and DirecTV specified all conditions of employment. The DOL asserted DirecTV attempted to avoid employer liability by structuring the installers’ employment relationship like they did. However, the court ruled that DirecTV was a joint employer of the installers and responsible for any FLSA violations. Therefore, DirecTV was ordered to pay damages and back wages in the amount of $395,000 to 147 installers.

This case illustrates the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. Generally, to be an independent contractor, one usually has the right to control the manner and means in which they perform their job. Once an employer begins dictating how the work should be accomplished or performed, or in what order the work should be completed, the worker is more likely an employee and not an independent contractor. Independent contractors do not have to be paid minimum wage, overtime, or break time, and they do not have the same protections under the law that an employee has. Thus, classification of a worker as an employee or an independent contractor is a choice that must be made carefully and in compliance with the laws and regulations.

(Advertising Material:  This Notice is for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice).

A Homerun for Minor League Baseball Players: Conditional Class Certification Granted

In a suit brought against Major League Baseball (MLB) by a group of former minor league players, a California federal court has granted a conditional class certification. The group of former players alleges they were not paid the requisite minimum wage in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). As a result, the ruling allows both current and former minor league players the opportunity to join the lawsuit and potentially recover minimum wage and overtime payments.
The California court, under U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero, granted the players motion to certify a class of all minor league players who worked for the MLB or any MLB franchise since February 7, 2011, and who, at the time, had not spent time in the major leagues. The lawsuit alleges the MLB franchises paid the players less than minimum wage, denied overtime pay, and required the players to train without pay during the off-season.
Along with the alleged FLSA violations, the players assert the MLB violated similar state wage and hour laws in eight states. Specifically, the MLB violated the laws by paying the players only $3,000 to $7,000 during the five-month season, while the players worked 50 hours to 70 hours per week.
The recent California court decision is just the most recent victory for the former minor league players. In July, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a motion by MLB franchises to dismiss the lawsuit. Instead, the court allowed the case to proceed to pre-trial discovery in order to determine if class certification was appropriate and whether the proposed class representatives have standing to represent the proposed classes. In opposition to the minor league players, the MLB argued the class should not be certified since minor league players are required to perform different tasks in the off-season as they are required during the season.

The minor league players’ compensation falls below the minimum wage as a result of the long hours they work during the season, and the fact that all current minor league players are bound by the same standard contract, which demands they work for a fixed salary despite the actual number of hours worked. The Court determined conditional certification was justified in this claim because the players’ allegations that they were subject to a uniform policy resulting in a failure to meet minimum wage requirements of the FLSA were significant.
Just weeks before this decision, U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam of California dismissed a separate lawsuit brought by minor league players against Commissioner Bud Selig and the MLB alleging federal antitrust laws were violated by Bud Selig and MLB in conspiring to restrict minor league players’ salaries.
Source: Gregg E. Clifton, Minor League Players Granted Conditional Class Certification in Wage Suit (October 29, 2015), See more at: http://www.natlawreview.com/article/minor-league-players-granted-conditional-class-certification-wage-suit.

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