As one of Spokane, Washington’s leading employment agencies, we know that wage-and-hour disputes have become one of the most common sources of employment-related liability. But if an employee complains verbally about such a dispute, but doesn’t file a formal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) complaint, could you still be found liable?
It’s possible, according to a recent court case.
A medical technologist in Virginia, along with several of her co-workers, complained to the firm’s COO that their supervisor was regularly altering time sheets in order to avoid showing overtime that the employees had worked. As you probably know, this is a direct violation of the FLSA. Shortly after, the medical technologist was fired, with the firm stating that there was “too much conflict with (her) supervisors and the relationship just (wasn’t) working.”
So the medical technologist sued, alleging that she’d been fired as retaliation for making an FLSA complaint. Her formed employer countered in court that she had not made a formal FLSA complaint, instead making an informal, internal, verbal complaint. Therefore, she wasn’t protected under FLSA. The lower court agreed and dismissed the complaint.
However, an appeals court has now reversed that decision, citing a Supreme Court case decision that ruled a verbal complaint was protected under FLSA if “it’s sufficiently clear … for a reasonable employer to understand it … as an assertion of rights under the statute.” The case is now back in the lower court and will likely result in a drawn out – and expensive – legal battle.
In addition, in early 2012, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division released a fact sheet, providing general information about the prohibition of retaliation against an employee who files a complaint under FLSA. The fact sheet states that employees are protected regardless of whether the complaint is oral or in writing.
The lesson here?
For employers, even the most casual mention of a wage-and-hour dispute may qualify as a claim. In addition, any disciplinary action, including termination, could be viewed as retaliation in the court of law.
Therefore, as one of Spokane, Washington’s leading employment agencies, we know that in order to protect your company, it’s important to implement a strict policy requiring documentation of ALL complaints, both written and verbal. If you are taken to court, having this kind of strongly enforced policy in place – and the documentation to back it up – will only add to your credibility in front of a judge and jury.