$1 Million + FLSA Overtime Settlement Shows Employers Should Tighten On-Call, Other Wage & Hour Practices


CALNET Inc. and two subcontractors providing language, intelligence and information technology services to the U.S. Army at Ft. Irwin, California have paid a combined total of $1,060,554 in back wages to settle claims they violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to properly pay for on-call time, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (DOL) announced January 19, 2011.  Highlighting the growing exposure employers generally face from the heightened Labor Department emphasis on overtime and other wage and hour law enforcement, .the settlement also demonstrates the significant risks that employers face from mischaracterizing or failing to properly pay for on-call, standby or other similar times required of non-exempt employees.  Employers and others providing workforce staffing should review and tighten existing worker classification, timekeeping and classification, recordkeeping and other practices and take other steps to strengthen the defensibility of their practices.

CALNET FLSA Backpay Settlement

According to its January 19, 2011 settlement announcement, the DOL, a Wage and Hour Division investigation determined that prime contractor CALNET Inc. of Reston, Va., and subcontractors Acclaim Technical Services Inc. of Huntington Beach, Calif., and McNeil Technologies of Springfield, Va., violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) by not properly compensating workers for all on-call time, resulting in overtime violations. The employers also were found to be in violation of FLSA recordkeeping requirements for failing to maintain proper records of the number of hours worked by employees and the compensation they were paid.  

The three companies have paid their employees a total of $1,060,554 in back wages owed for the period between October 2008 and October 2010. CALNET paid $676,698 to 597 employees.  Acclaim Technical Services paid $234,311 to 177 employees. McNeil Technologies paid $149,545 to 91 employees. 

Overtime & Other Wage & Hour Enforcement Risks Rising

Government contractors and other employers increasingly risk triggering significant liability by failing to properly characterize, track and pay for on-call and other compensable time in violation of the FSLA or other laws.

The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates of pay, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employees must also maintain accurate time and payroll records.  Improper classification of on-call or other hours that the FLSA requires an employer to treat as compensable exposes the employer to potential minimum wage, overtime and recordkeeping violations.

Under the FLSA, on-call time becomes compensable when the on-call conditions are so restrictive or the calls to duty so frequent that the employee cannot effectively use on-call time for personal purposes under the facts and circumstances.  

Unfortunately, many employers often are overly optimistic or otherwise fail to properly understand and apply FLSA rules for characterizing on-call or other time, classifying workers as exempt versus non-exempt or making other key determinations. 

Employers wearing rose tinted glasses when making wage and hour worker classification or compensable time determinations tend to overlook the significance of the burden of proof they can expect to bear should their classification be challenged.  Under the FSLA and applicable state wage and hour laws, employers generally bear the burden of proving that they have properly paid their employees in accordance with the FLSA. Additionally, the FLSA and most applicable state wage and hour laws typically mandate that employers maintain records of the hours worked by employees by non-exempt employees, documentation of the employer’s proper payment of its non-exempt employees in accordance with the minimum wage and overtime mandates of the FLSA, and certain other records.  Since the burden of proof of compliance generally rests upon the employer, employers should take steps to ensure their ability to demonstrate that they have properly paid non-exempt employees in accordance with applicable FLSA and state wage and hour mandates and that employees not paid in accordance with these mandates qualify as exempt from coverage under the FLSA. 

These mistakes can be very costly.  Employers that fail to properly pay employees under Federal and state wage and hour regulations face substantial risk.  In addition to liability for back pay awards, violation of wage and hour mandates carries substantial civil – and in the case of willful violations, even criminal- liability exposure.  Civil awards commonly include back pay, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. 

The potential that noncompliant employers will incur these liabilities has risen significantly in recent years.  Under the Obama Administration, Labor Department officials have made it a priority to enforce overtime, recordkeeping, worker classification and other wage and hour law requirements. While all employers face heightened prosecution risks, federal officials specifically are targeting government contractors, health care, technology and certain other industry employers for special scrutiny.  Meanwhile, private enforcement of these requirements by also has soared following the highly-publicized implementation of updated FLSA regulations regarding the classification of workers during the last Bush Administration. See Minimum Wage, Overtime Risks Highlighted By Labor Department Strike Force Targeting Residential Care & Group Homes; Review & Strengthen Defensibility of Existing Worker Classification Practices In Light of Rising Congressional & Regulatory Scrutiny; 250 New Investigators, Renewed DOL Enforcement Emphasis Signal Rising Wage & Hour Risks For EmployersQuest Diagnostics, Inc. To Pay $688,000 In Overtime Backpay.

Employers Should Strengthen Practices For Defensibility

As a consequence, most employers should review and document the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws and take appropriate steps to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  To minimize exposure under the FLSA, employers should review and document the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws and take appropriate steps to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  Steps advisable as part of this process include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Audit of each position current classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying that characterization;
  • Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
  • Review the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
  • Review of existing practices for tracking compensable hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
  • If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, self-initiation of appropriate corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review of existing documentation and recordkeeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Exploration of available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees; and
  • Reengineering of work rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations.

Because of the potentially significant liability exposure, employers generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel prior to the commencement of their assessment and to conduct the assessment within the scope of attorney-client privilege to minimize risks that might arise out of communications made in the course of conducting this sensitive investigation. 

For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, Labor Department or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification or other labor and employment, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872 .

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer frequently has worked, extensively on these and other workforce and performance related matters.   She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

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