Bird sanctuary employees net thousands in back pay

Nine employees of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary will be receiving a combined $21,000 in owed back wages thanks to the results of a federal investigation into the company’s payroll processes. Media reports show that investigators discovered several minimum wage violations after an audit of the facility’s records.

The sanctuary reportedly failed to pay several employees for a period of weeks. That omission resulted in minimum wage law violations. Some employees were also paid salaries without considering how many hours they actually worked at the facility. As a result, some workers’ wages dropped below the $7.25 per hour minimum wage rate. Investigators also discovered that those employees were not appropriately compensated for the overtime hours they worked at the sanctuary.

Overtime violations are particularly easy to spot; employers must pay additional wages when workers are on the clock for more than 40 hours each week. Overtime pay often involves time-and-a-half wages, which allows employees to collect 150 percent of their regular earnings.

This is not the first time that the 67-year-old owner of the sanctuary has run into legal trouble because of workers’ rights issues. The facility was forced to close its doors for several days in 2007 because it failed to pay its workers’ compensation insurance premiums. After that, the recession seemed to hit the sanctuary hard, and violations continued to spiral out of control for the owner.

As a result, the IRS is currently seeking nearly $200,000 in owed back payroll taxes, all of which remain outstanding. The IRS has placed liens for those funds, which are in addition to the $21,000 owed to the nine workers.

Wage and hour violations are not uncommon in today’s working world, especially in small, privately run businesses. Often, such establishments do not keep proper records of hours worked and wages paid; this can lead to misunderstandings and underpayment. All employers are required to pay employees for every hour worked, even if the employee works more than 40 hours per week. Failure to do so leaves the company open to lawsuits, because employees who have not been fairly compensated have a right to pursue litigation to recover the wages that are owed to them.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, “Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary to pay $21,336 in back wages after violations found,” Anne Lindberg, Nov. 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.