Employment Law

Wage and Hour Lawsuits are Rising

by Fred Abramson on March 17, 2010 · 0 comments

Wage and Hour lawsuits are rising according to Kiplinger.com. Due to the faltering economy, workers who have been let go are looking to the courts to seek monetary damages.  Usually the lawsuits are based upon allegations that hourly workers are not paid overtime. This is a violation of the Federal Labor Standards Act.

According to the article, New York was one of the states that has seen the most significant growth in Wage and Hour lawsuits.   Among the reasons why there have been an increase in litigation is because these cases are relatively easy to win.  The proof is in the numbers.  If you are a worker, you simply have to prove that you worked overtime.  This is usually evidenced by a time sheet.  Large employers also keep records of employees hours.  If the workers paycheck doesn’t match the hours worked, the worker wins.  Awards can include two to three years of back pay plus benefits.

The Obama administration is also placing a greater emphasis on regulation and enforcement.  As a result, more workers are being notified of Wage and Hour violations.

Here are a few ways that a business can protect itself from Wage and Hour lawsuits:

  • All worker classifications should be reviewed. Make sure that you are properly classifying any independent contractors.
  • Review all worker wages.  Sit down with an attorney to see if you workers are being properly paid. This could save your company millions of dollars.  Wal-Mart settled a $65 million dollar claim last year.
  • Speak to and train all of your supervisors.  Managers often demand workera to work overtime without knowing its implications.
  • If there is a problem don’t ignore it.  If an employee complains that she has not been paid overtime, take it seriously. Wage lawsuits can be just as costly as sexual harassment litigation.
  • Make sure your employee handbook is up to date and addressses wage and hour issues.
  • Be aware of the difference between employees who are paid salaries and hourly workers.

Another tip, as Rush Nugut points out is that a business should consider hiring a lawyer during the auditing process as to keep the attorney-client privledge.

I would also like to thank Craig Roberts for his insights regarding this issue while watching our children slide on giant inflatables at a Pump it Up party in Plaiview, Long Island.

If you have any question regarding Wage and Hour Lawsuits, whether you are an employer or employee, contact the Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson at 212-233-0666.



Misclassifying an an employee as an independent contractor is one of the most expensive mistakes that a business owner can make. It does not matter whether you intentionally made the mistake. You can be subject to large penalties, fines and even subject the criminal liability.  I have recently reported that the IRS has been targeting employers with independent contract workers.

The problems don’t end with the employer. Misclassified workers can lose:

  • Worker’s Compensation Insurance
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Wage protection such as minimum wage and overtime.

Employers who hire independent contractors have an unfair advantage because labor costs less and they could charge less for their goods and services. If you are in the construction industry, a competitor who improperly misclassifies their workers as independent contractors can underbid you.

The employer who gets caught with improperly classifying workers as independent contractors can be subject to liabilities for:

  • Unpaid Federal, State and Local Income Tax withholdings
  • Social Security and Medicare contributions
  • Workers’ Compensation Premiums
  • Overtime
  • Unemployment compensation
  • State-mandated benefit programs

Audits

The New York Department of Labor conducts two types of audits, general and specific. The general audits are conducted randomly with nothing specific as its subject. It is interesting to note that these audits are not statistically random as specific industries, such as construction are heavily targeted. Specific groups are the subject to targeted audits as well, which are based on a variety of factors, including prior issue with improper classification. The Cornell Law Institute performed an excellent report about the misclassification of independent contractors in New York and is a great resource.

Prevailing Wage Duties

On publicly funded construction projects, some companies use missclassification as a way to avoid paying prevailing wage rates.  A company that is caught can be subject to paying restitution to affected employees, fines for failing to maintain payroll and general records and submit valid and certified records.

Conclusion

Due to the increased scrutiny on the use of independent contractors, employers, especially those in the construction industry need to focus on how they classify their workers. You should conduct audits internally with legal counsel to determine if their are any issues.

If you have any questions regarding the classification of independent contractors, contact me at the Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson at 212-233-0666.

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Your employees are probably participating in social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. But what are your workers doing on Facebook while on the clock? Are they networking or are they sharing their 5 favorite beers? On the one hand, you want to trust your employees and make them feel like they have autonomy to perform their work duties. On the other hand, you are paying them to work and you want them to present themselves professionally.

Recently, staffers of The Wall Street Journal were provided a compiled list of rules for “professional conduct” which regulates online behavior. Should your company follow the lead of the Wall Street Journal and draft a written social networking policy advising what your employees can post while working at the office? If you would like to limit potential company liability to lawsuits, the answer is yes. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. A written social networking policy may shield your Company from defamation lawsuits. What happens if your employee starts posting on Facebook untrue statements about a competitor? Without a written social networking policy, your Company could be sued for defamation.

2. Potential disclosure of Company proprietary information. Let’s say that your business has created the next killer app that will be ready to launch in 3 months. By having a non-disclosure section written into your social networking policy, your employee would be on notice and could be held liable for posting on LinkedIn such information.

3. Your business’s social networking use policy should encourage positive and constructive use of the social networking sites, as well as to prevent the use of such sites for personal or inappropriate reasons. You could be held liable for anything that your employees say of a personal nature on social networking sites.

4. Potential use in litigation. Information disseminated by your employees on social networking sites can be uncovered by a potential adversary and used against your company in litigation. Therefore, you should be clear about the type of topics that can be discussed on social networking sites.

5. Intellectual Property. Trademark and Copyright laws extend to what your post on social networking sites. Your social networking policy should make clear that your employees should refrain from posting trademarked or copyrighted material while representing the company.
So, your Company should regulate social networking use in a more expanded way than the way you regulate other Internet use. By being upfront about the potential problems of social networking, you could help both you and your employees successfully utilize this tool and avoid unwanted lawsuits.

Further Resource:

Online database of social networking policies.

Contact the Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson at 212-233-0666 for more information about social networking policies.

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