Articles Posted in Overtime Wages (FLSA)

pills.jpgThe Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay employees overtime pay, at a rate of time and a half, for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. See Section 207 of the Act. However, the FLSA contains many exemptions, including for “administrative” employees, perhaps the most common exemption, and “outside” salespeople.

Novartis is a drug manufacturer. It sells its drugs to wholesalers, who sell to pharmacies, who sell to patients who are prescribed the drugs by their doctors. Novartis benefits from doctors prescribing its drugs.

Novartis employs a small army of individuals who do not sell the drugs directly to the doctors but instead make regular calls on doctors to encourage them to prescribe Novartis drugs to their patients. 2500 of these individuals brought a class action against Novartis for FLSA overtime wages. Novartis argued that they were exempt as outside salespeople and administrative employees. The Plaintiffs countered by arguing that they do not make sales or obtain orders, and thus are not salespeople, and do not exercise discretion and independent judgment, two of the critical indicia for the “administrative” employee exemption.
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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes standards for minimum wages, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor. Although the Act affects more than 130 million workers, some employers and employees are exempt.

The Act applies to enterprises with employees who engage in interstate commerce, produce goods for interstate commerce, or handle, sell, or work on goods or materials that have been moved in or produced for interstate commerce. Case law has created a liberal interpretation of these elements in order to protect employees. In addition, for the Act to apply, the enterprise must have not less than $500,000 in annual dollar volume business.

Some employees who work for covered employers, may nevertheless be exempt from both the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Act based on the work they perform. At the top of the list is the exemption for executive, administrative, and professional employees. These individuals are typically paid a set salary without regard to the number of hours spent on the job in any given workweek. (This “exemption” has resulted in a tremendous amount of court litigation. Employers often seek to avoid the Act’s overtime requirements by classifying employees as executives (e.g., “manager”), without matching the pay and job responsibilities with the title. To avoid inequity, the courts look to substance rather than rely on mere words.)

Examples of other employees exempt from both the minimum wage and overtime requirements include:

  • Casual babysitters
  • Companions for the elderly
  • Employees engaged in newspaper delivery
  • Federal criminal investigators
  • Seamen employed on foreign vessels
  • Switchboard operators

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One of the principal reasons for business being conducted through a corporation, is for the officers, directors, managers, and shareholders of the corporation to be shielded from personal liability for the company’s failures and mistakes. Absent fraud or comingling, the so-called corporate shield is supposed to protect them from personal liability. This holds true for most business deals gone sour and accidents caused by corporate negligence such as by defective products.

To the surprise of many, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has a vehicle for piercing the corporate shield.

Congress enacted the FLSA in 1938 to create and maintain minimum standards of living for workers in industries engaged in interstate commerce. Section 202. Congress attempted to secure this goal, in part, by enacting a prohibition which generally mandated that individuals who work more than 40 hours in a week receive an overtime premium. In essence, the Act provides for the payment of overtime wages calculated at X-1/2 for all hours worked over 40 in a week.

Some employers try to skirt the law through creating a variety of false arrangements, however, the majority of those in violation only do so through innocent ignorance or misunderstanding. In piercing the corporate veil, the FLSA does not draw a distinction between intentional acts and innocent mistakes.
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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enacted in 1938, was Congress’s effort to create and maintain minimum standards of living for workers in industries engaged in interstate commerce. Congress attempted to secure this goal, in part, by enacting a prohibition which generally mandated that individuals who work more than 40 hours in a week receive an overtime premium. However, until 2005, drivers, drivers’ helpers, loaders and mechanics of vehicles weighing 10,000 lbs. or less who performed tasks that affected the safety of vehicles operating in interstate commerce were exempted from the maximum hours provisions of the Act, set forth specifically in 29 U.S.C. Section 207. This changed on August 10, 2005, when the exemption was removed by the enactment on August 10, 2005, of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

The FLSA is a complicated set of laws laden with numerous exemptions and qualifications. Employers and employees should consult with a legal expert well-versed in handling FLSA cases to address the many aspects of the Act.
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Exemptions are so common in FLSA cases that practitioners accepting new cases are wise to consider the possibility in all but the most obvious situations. Along with determining the amount of overtime hours, if any, logged by employees, disputes over the applicability or not of exemptions have formed the lion share of litigation in the FLSA cases handled in my office.

Common exemptions include (typically, salaried employees):

  • Executives
  • Administrators
  • Professional
  • Outside sales workers
  • Some computer workers

Knowing the case law is a must, but can be frustrating and confusing as the decisions, both regarding factual patterns and legal pronouncements, run the gamut. In some cases, the practitioner is unable to make a clear determination. In those instances, instinct is often the best judge of whether or not a case should be pursued.
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