Shell Oil Co. and Motiva Enterprises LLC, which markets Shell gasoline and other products, will pay $4,470,764 in overtime back wages to 2,677 current and former chemical and refinery employees to settle Department of Labor (Labor Department) charges they violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The settlement with the Labor Department announced September 16, 2014 reminds businesses of the importance of properly tracking and paying workers for all compensable hours in accordance with the FLSA and other laws.
The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Workers who are not employed in agriculture and not otherwise exempt from overtime compensation are entitled to time and one-half their regular rates of pay for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. The law also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and it prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law.
The settlement resolves charges made by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division based on investigations at eight Shell and Motiva facilities in Alabama, California, Louisiana, Texas and Washington, which the Labor Department says found that the companies violated FLSA overtime provisions by not paying workers for the time spent at mandatory pre-shift meetings and failing to record the time spent at these meetings.
The Labor Department also says the investigations also revealed that those eight Shell Oil and Motiva refineries failed to pay workers for time spent attending mandatory pre-shift meetings. The companies required the workers to come to the meetings before the start of their 12-hour shift. Because the companies failed to consider time spent at mandatory pre-shift meetings as compensable, employees were not paid for all hours worked and did not receive all of the overtime pay of time and one-half their regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Additionally, the refineries did not keep accurate time records.
Shell, with U.S. headquarters in Houston, is an oil and natural gas producer involved in processing crude oil to manufacture energy products, including gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and petroleum coke. Motiva, which is partially owned by Shell, is a leading refiner, distributor and marketer of fuels in the Eastern and Gulf Coast regions of the United States. It markets petroleum products under the Shell brand.
In addition to paying backpay, Shell and Motiva have signed settlement agreements that call for training of managers, payroll personnel and human resources personnel on the FLSA’s requirements. The training will stress the importance of requiring accurate recording and pay for all hours worked with emphasis on pre-and post-shift activities.
The settlement reflects the importance for all employers to properly classify, track and keep records of hours and compensation, and pay workers covered by the FLSA. “Employers are legally required to pay workers for all hours worked,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Whether in the international oil industry, as in this case, or a local family-run restaurant, the Labor Department is working to ensure that responsible employers do not experience a competitive disadvantage because they play by the rules.”
Employers Should Strengthen Practices For Defensibility
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 other actions 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 proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
- Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
- Exploration of available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees; and
- Re-engineering of work rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures.
Because of the potentially significant liability exposure, employers generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel before starting their risk assessment and assess risks and claims within the scope of attorney-client privilege to help protect the ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections to help shelter conversations or certain other sensitive risk activities from discovery under the rules of evidence.
For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs
If you need help in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, DOL, Justice Department, or other federal or state agencies or other private plaintiff or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification or other labor and employment, compliance, 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 often 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 more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.
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