Class action suit filed against AT&T for restricted lunch breaks

According to the Fair Labor Standard Act, if an employee works more than 40 hours per week, he or she is entitled to overtime pay for those additional hours. This is universally understood and it is rare for an employer to overtly deny its employees this right. However, some companies may avoid an employee rights violation by working around this requirement. Instead of denying overtime, an employer might take measures to ensure that its employees stay within the regular 40 hours.

A class action lawsuit has recently been filed against AT&T for just such behavior. According to an attorney for the plaintiffs, the telecommunications company has been forcing its employees to work, without pay, during their lunch breaks. If the employees were compensated for their work, they would exceed 40 hours and AT&T would have to pay overtime.

The workers are not forced to work, per se, but they are subjected to heavy restrictions while on break. For example, they may be prohibited from going home, from leaving their vehicles, from traveling more than a half-mile for lunch, or from listening to music or reading the newspaper. According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, such a break is no break at all, and employees should be paid for their time.

There is no federal law that requires employers to give their employees lunch breaks. However, if breaks are to be provided, they should be largely unrestricted, the plaintiffs argue. California is the only state to legally mandate that employers provide at least a 30-minute break for any employee who works more than five hours at a time. Employers are not obligated to ensure that employees take their breaks, only that they are aware of them.

AT&T has responded to the lawsuit via a spokesperson statement. According to the spokesperson, the company is dedicated to complying with all laws and regulations regarding employee rights, including wage and hour laws.

Source: Huffington Post, “Indiana AT&T Technicians File Class Action Lawsuit Citing Grim Break Conditions,” Meredith Bennett-Smith, Aug. 16, 2012

Supervisors held personally liable for employee rights violations

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees who are denied overtime pay for hours worked beyond their regular schedules may directly sue their supervisors or managers. The language of the FLSA defines “employer” broadly; anyone who acts in a supervisory capacity in the interest of the employer can be held liable for violations of employee rights.

This is good news for anyone who has ever been victimized by a neglectful boss, or taken advantage of by an unscrupulous supervisor. Knowledge of one’s rights under the law can go a long way in ensuring fair workplace practices. Managers and supervisors are less likely to deny an employee overtime pay if they know they can be held personally liable.

On the other hand, operating from limited or outdated legal knowledge can be extremely costly. In a recent case, a maintenance worker sued his employer and his immediate supervisor, alleging that he had been denied pay for extra hours worked. His supervisor attempted to have her name dropped from the suit, arguing that she was not the worker’s employer. However, the court explained that the language of the FLSA is such that anyone in control of timesheets, discipline, and scheduling-such as she was-is indeed acting in the capacity of employer.

The best way to avoid the costly effects of wage-and-hour violations, both for employees and supervisors, experts suggest, is to stay current on the relevant legal details. For example, an employee who sues just his or her employer and leaves his or her supervisor off the hook is missing out on potential monetary damages.

By the same token, a supervisor must be knowledgeable as well. In many cases, a supervisor who is found liable for an employee rights violation may be able to demand that any and all damages be paid by his or her company, since he or she was acting as a representative of the company.

Source: Human Resources Journal, “The No. 1 Employer Mistake, Wrongly Labeling Employees As Exempt From Overtime Pay: Supervisors Could Pay Big Time,” Aug. 2012.