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FLSA Claims Continue to Rise

Most Missouri employers, along with those in the rest of the nation, must comply with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This law, originally enacted in 1938, laid the groundwork for workplace protections including the 40-hour work week most of us take for granted. It also mandated overtime pay for nonexempt employees who put in more than a 40-hour week. Workers receive time and a half for overtime compensation.

Missouri workers who believe their employers are not in compliance with the provisions of this law can sue, as individuals or collectively with other workers, to compel employers to pay proper wages and overtime. Employers can take a significant hit from collective cases, which make up the majority of these lawsuits. A major pharmaceutical company, for example, recently had to settle an overtime case with over 7,000 of its workers for $99 million.

Law firms specializing in wage and hour cases have taken note of a sharp rise in the number of lawsuits filed in federal court under the FLSA. According to U.S. Federal Court statistics, American workers filed 7,008 FLSA claims in the reporting year ending in March 31, 2011 - an increase of 15 percent over the previous reporting year. Throughout the past ten years, the annual number of FLSA claims has more than tripled.

The increase may be because of problems interpreting the definitions of a work day and a work week as workers increasingly provide service to their employers from locations other than the conventional workplace. Under the FLSA, a work week is a span of 168 hours covering seven 24-hour days in a row. Overtime begins after 40 hours on the job during a work week, not after eight hours in a work day.

Unfortunately, the FLSA does not make it clear when a work day starts and ends, which can create recordkeeping difficulties. A worker might check company e-mail after commuting home from work, and would want that time to count towards the work week; but if the work day ended when the worker left the office, there may be a question about whether this time will actually count.

In Missouri there is no upper or lower limit on the number of hours an employer can ask an employee to work. This standard is compatible with the FLSA. Missouri law clarifies that a worker's travel time to and from work is generally not to be considered work time, though travel during the work day in fulfillment of job duties is work time. No employer in Missouri can ask an employee to voluntarily waive the right to receive overtime pay, and an employee who is asked to do this has grounds for filing a complaint.

Source: US DOL, "Handy Reference Guide to the Fair Labor Standards Act"

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