At a time when companies are trying to keep salaries as low as possible, could you have other hidden exposures?
Every penny counts … especially to employees in tight times. So if they think they’re entitled to overtime, they’re going to tell you. Worse, they might tell a lawyer!
Wage and hour suits are low-hanging fruit for money-hungry lawyers. (Is there any other kind?) These days people are willing to consider going this route who never would have before. And there are plenty of attorneys willing to oblige.
So could you have any possible exposures? Check out these real-life scenarios and see how the courts ruled.
Scenario 1: Employee had to go to stress counseling
This employee worked a stressful job — and it started to take its toll. When the employee was asked to take on a second shift, it became too much for her to handle. So the company required her to see a therapist for the stress.
The employee was already seeking counseling and wanted to stay with that particular therapist. The employer said no and made her see a contract therapist, whose office was a two-hour round trip from the employee’s home.
The employee’s argument: “I should receive overtime pay for the time I spend driving to and from counseling sessions.”
The company’s argument: “The therapy is being provided for the employee’s benefit and therefore we don’t have to pay for it.”
Did the company have to pay? Yes. The employee was being treated for her employer’s benefit, not her own, in the judge’s eyes. That meant the company had to pick up the tab.
Cite: Sehie v. City of Aurora, CA7, No. 04-2308, 12/27/05.
Scenario 2: Employees had to go through security checks
It’s a fact of life today: More and more work-sites require a high level of security. This company did, so their employees were required to go through an extensive security screen each day when arriving at and leaving work.
Employees felt the clock should keep running during these checks, and they deserved overtime pay.
The employees’ argument: “We should be paid overtime because they are necessary — we have no choice.”
The company’s argument: “The security checks aren’t an actual part of the employees’ jobs, so we don’t need to pay them for the time they spend at them.”
Did the company have to pay? No. For time to be compensable, it must be both “necessary” and “integral.” The employees were right that the security checks were necessary, but they were not integral. Consider it off the clock.
Cite: Gorman et al. v. Consolidated Edison and Carballo et al. v. Entergy Nuclear, U.S. CA2, Nos. 05-6546-cv & 06-2241-cv, 5/30/07.
Scenario 3: Employees had to punch in at a time clock far from their work areas
Granted, some people may be feeling more “put upon” these days as they’re expected to take on more work. But how much of their day are you expected to pay for?
The placement of this company’s time clock caused some serious headaches. Many employees spent time walking from the front of the plant’s location, where they had to punch in, to the spot where they did their jobs.
The employees’ argument: “We should be paid for the time we spend walking to the front of the building to punch in, then back to start work.”
The company’s argument: “Your day hasn’t started until you start working — no need to pay you to punch in.”
Did the company have to pay? No. While courts have ruled that some companies must pay employees for the time they spend walking to their work areas after they put on their protective equipment, the same doesn’t hold true when punching in and out. That’s because clocking in occurs before the workday technically starts, while putting on protective equipment is actually a part of certain workers’ jobs.
Cite: Alvarez v. IBP, Inc. and Tum v. Barber Foods, Inc., U.S. Supreme Court, 11/8/05.