A law firm is the latest employer nailed for Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) overtime violations by the US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (“DOL”).
Following an investigation and federal court order, the U.S. Department of Labor recovered $26,496 in back wages and liquidated damages from the Auburn, Alabama based Slocumb Law Firm LLC for failing to pay overtime to 42 workers.
Investigators also determined Slocumb failed to keep accurate records of hours worked for workers paid on a salary basis who the DOL found we’re not exempt under the FLSA.
In December 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama Eastern Division issued a default judgment, affirming the DOL’s findings that the personal injury law firm and owner Michael W. Slocumb failed to pay the workers overtime when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek.
The court ordered the firm and its owner to pay $13,248 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages.
Slocumb originally filed a motion to set aside the judgement but later withdrew it. The DOL then sent a demand letter requiring payment for the wages that the workers were legally owed.
The action illustrates both the widespread misunderstanding of many law firm and other employers of the rules regarding the treatment of employees as salaried, exempt from FLSA minimum wage, overtime and record keeping requirements and the DOL’s readiness to enforce those rules.
Misunderstandings about when workers are classified as employees versus contractors, exempt versus non-exempt, and regarding the appropriate tracking, counting, and reporting of hours work are recurrent grounds for frequent DOL and private litigant recoveries. Many employers fail to recognize The significance of special FLSA rules for characterization of workers as employees and the narrowness of the rules for treating employees as exempt and eligible for payment on a salary rather than hourly basis. These mistakes also create a heightened risk that the employer will failed to track necessary Information to defend against employee or DOL hours of work claims and and trigger additional liability for failing to comply with FLSA rules forreporting of hours work. These misperceptions also often lead misinformed employers to take actions that provide a basis for retaliation claims. DOL and private litigant leverage these mistakes to achieve their recoveries.
Enforcement by the DOL and private litigants is common.
DOL views FLSA enforcement as a key priority. “Employers must pay employees all the wages they’ve legally earned, including overtime when they work over 40 in a workweek,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Kenneth Stripling in Birmingham, Alabama in announcing the recovery. “The Wage and Hour Division will use every avenue, including the courts, to protect workers’ rights and ensure they receive the wages they are lawfully owed. Employers should contact the agency and speak with a Wage and Hour professional to avoid these violations and ensure compliance with federal wage laws.”
Employers found in violation of these rules in DOL enforcement actions face actual damages, interest, civil monetary penalties, enforcement costs, and in the case of willful violations, even potential criminal sanctions.
Generous recoveries also makes private enforcement very attractive to employees and plaintiffs’ counsel. Private litigants can recover actual damages plus double damages, interest, attorneys fees and other costs of enforcement. The availability of these extraordinary damages and recoveries makes these highly popular cases to many plaintiffs attorneys.
Along with FLSA claims, these violations also can trigger state wage an hour, payday act and other liabilities.
DOL and private litigant leverage these mistakes to achieve their recoveries. Aside from avoiding potentially costly mistakes, critically reviewing and documenting the basis of characterization of workers as employees versus contractors and exempt versus non-exempt can minimize the risk that violations will be found willful.
Because these audits often uncover violations or lead to sensitive conversations about the classification and payment of workers under the FLSA and other laws, employers and their leaders generally should arrange for this analysis to be conducted within the scope of attorney client privilege under the direction of a lawyer experienced in FLSA and other employment law compliance.
Additionally, employers should keep in mind that improperly handled employee questions or statements of concern about potential FLSA and other related requirements could create retaliation or whistleblower risks. Accordingly, employers should use care to investigate and respond carefully to these concerns and in handling subsequent discipline or other employment decisions involving workers raising them.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.
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