FLSA Claims Go to Trial

 

By Amanda Buchan February 12, 2019
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​An employee who was paid fixed amounts for certain tasks, not paid for other tasks, and not paid overtime for certain paid tasks raised issues that a jury should hear ("triable issues of fact") regarding whether his employer met its obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). But the termination of his employment after raising concerns regarding his compensation was not retaliatory, a federal district court ruled.

The employer, a bathroom remodeling company, employed the plaintiff as an installer. Each day the plaintiff would unload demolition debris and load equipment and materials into his company van at the company's offices before driving to his jobsite. The company allocated 45 minutes to these tasks regardless of the actual time spent, but the plaintiff claimed he often worked more than 45 minutes to complete these tasks.

The plaintiff also alleged the company sometimes did not pay him for the time spent driving to the jobsite, and when he was paid for the travel time, it was based on a fixed time estimate rather than the actual driving time. The company did not pay the plaintiff for the time he spent driving the van back to the company's office at the end of the day. Also, when calculating overtime pay, the company did not include the 45 minutes allocated to loading and unloading the truck or time spent traveling to the jobsite. Rather, the company paid overtime only on time spent at the jobsite itself. After the plaintiff complained about some of these issues, he was fired.

The plaintiff sued the company alleging FLSA violations. As to the time spent loading and unloading the van, the court concluded there was a triable issue of fact whether the actual time spent exceeded the fixed time the company allocated to it.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with U.S. Wage and Hour Laws and Wage Payment Laws]

Likewise, whether the travel time to the jobsite, even when paid, fully included the actual time spent driving was a triable issue. The court further ruled the time spent returning the van to the office might be compensable depending on whether the use of the van was integral to the employee's performing the principal activities of his job, and whether the company required him to return the van to the office each day. In addition, the court explained, any compensable pre- and post-jobsite time must be included when calculating weekly overtime.

The court dismissed the plaintiff's retaliation claim. Although the plaintiff was not provided a reason for his termination at the time, the court found he did not ask for a reason, and, regardless, contemporaneous text messages showed he was aware of the company's concerns regarding his job performance.

Henry v. Wells Remodeling, N.D. Ala., 2: 16-cv-00511 (Jan. 9, 2019).

Professional Pointer: This case illustrates how careful employers must be in determining what time is compensable, how to calculate such time (e.g., assigning a fixed amount to a task versus compensating the actual time spent), and what hours to include when calculating overtime, especially in relation to the use of a company vehicle and related travel time.

Amanda Buchan is an attorney with Winterbauer & Diamond PLLC, the Worklaw® Network member firm in Seattle.

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