Fair Labor Standards Act In Action

Federal and state laws provide workers in the U.S. with protections against abusive workplaces. One of the most well-known laws governing treatment of employees is the Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA has been in effect for years, and employees continue to bring legal action against employers for violations of employee rights under the FLSA. Two recent cases demonstrate what a large role the FLSA plays in the workplace.

FLSA Protections

Congress passed the FLSA in 1938 to offer U.S. workers some basic protections against oppressive labor conditions. The law sets the federal minimum wage, which as of spring 2012 is $7.25 per hour.

The FLSA also requires employers to pay employees one and a half times their normal wages when employees work more than 40 hours in a week. The law makes some types of employees "exempt" from the overtime requirement, such as managers, computer workers, those with specialized education or training, outside salespeople and creative professionals.

The Employment Standards Administration's Wage and Hour Division, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, investigates complaints employees file regarding alleged FLSA violations.

Wal-Mart Ordered To Pay Back Wages

The Department of Labor investigated retail giant Wal-Mart after allegations surfaced that the company failed to properly compensate its Vision Center managers and asset protection coordinators for overtime they worked. The company had considered these employees exempt from the FLSA's overtime pay requirements, but after investigation, DOL officials concluded that these employees were nonexempt and therefore were owed overtime pay.

Wal-Mart will pay $4.8 million in back wages and damages to over 4,500 employees who were misclassified, along with a $463,815 civil penalty to the DOL because of the repeated nature of the violations.

Medication Sales Representatives Exempt?

FLSA cases have made it as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. In April 2012, the Court heard oral arguments in Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of pharmaceutical sales representatives seeking pay for the 10 to 20 hours a week over 40 hours they regularly log. The sales representatives argue that they should not be exempt from the FLSA overtime pay requirements, despite the fact the law lists sales as an exempt profession, because the employees do not actually sell to the doctors with whom they meet. Federal law prohibits direct sales of medications to doctors.

The drug companies arguing against paying the employees overtime contend that the employees are hired and given training as salespeople and that they do not actually make sales does not change the nature of the job. The court should issue an opinion in the case in June 2012.

Classification of employees as exempt and other wage-related matters can be complex. If you think you have not been properly compensated for your work time, contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your situation.