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Wal-Mart faces suit for employment wrongs

More wage and hour claims are plaguing the corporate behemoth Wal-Mart. The company is facing another lawsuit after reportedly violating minimum wage requirements throughout the nation. Wal-Mart is also accused of violating overtime rules, requiring temporary employees to show up early, work late and continue working through lunch.

The workers, who were contracted through two separate staffing agencies, filed a class-action suit against the big-box retailer early last week. The implications for this suit are important for temporary workers throughout the nation.

The civil suit comes after a series of protests that resulted in the first-ever strike against Wal-Mart in early October. Store employees, empowered by the organization OUR Wal-Mart, walked off the job in major cities including Los Angeles and Dallas, according to media reports. Strikes have also been held at some Southern California warehouses because of untenable working conditions, according to experts, and employees at a distribution center in Illinois have also prompted work stoppages.

Throughout the past decade, Wal-Mart’s employment practices have come under fire from both workers and the general public. A 2008 agreement required the company to pay more than $600 million to settle a bundle of state and federal class-action employment lawsuits. The company was accused of withholding wages as a part of those suits, as well.

Additionally, temporary employees are also alleging that Wal-Mart failed to pay the four hours of wages owed on days when a worker was contracted but not utilized. Civil cases involving temporary employees are sometimes more complicated than those that deal only with directly employed workers. Temporary employees receive their paychecks through the agencies that send them to the worksites, but they are accountable to supervisors at the site. Both Wal-Mart and the staffing agency share responsibility for ensuring that the workers have been paid.

It can seem intimidating to pursue legal action against a large company, and some employees who have been wronged may be tempted to simply give up and accept it. To do this, however, not only allows an injustice to go unpunished, but it also clears the way for a company to carry out their injustices on other workers in the future. In this case, Wal-Mart employees seem to be trusting in strength in numbers to empower them as they move forward with their litigation. It is not clear how much the workers are seeking in compensatory damages.

Source: Reuters, “Wal-Mart hit with minimum wage lawsuit as walkout threat looms,” Oct. 22, 2012.