Can You Sue Employer For Not Paying Overtime?

Picture of Leticia Dubois, Ph.D.

Leticia Dubois, Ph.D.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes the standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and child labor.

Under the FLSA, non-exempt employees are entitled to receive overtime pay at a rate of at least one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

However, some employers fail to comply with these regulations, leading to disputes over unpaid overtime.

This article will explore whether an employee can sue employer for not paying overtime.

Can You Sue Employer For Not Paying Overtime? Legal Basis for Overtime Pay

The FLSA is the primary federal law governing overtime pay. It requires covered employers to pay non-exempt employees at least one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

The FLSA also provides exemptions for certain categories of employees, such as executive, administrative, professional, and outside sales employees, as well as certain computer employees.

Can You Sue Employer For Not Paying Overtime? 1

These exemptions are based on specific criteria related to job duties, salary level, and salary basis (see list below).

The Portal-to-Portal Act further clarifies what constitutes compensable work time, including activities that are integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform.

Additionally, the Act addresses the issue of preliminary and postliminary activities, as well as travel time.

Legal options for Unpaid Overtime

When an employer fails to pay overtime as required by the FLSA, employees have legal recourse to address the violation.

The first step for employees is to attempt to resolve the issue internally by bringing it to the attention of their employer.

If the internal resolution is not successful, employees can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

The DOL is responsible for enforcing the FLSA and investigating complaints related to wage and hour violations.

In cases where internal and DOL complaints do not result in a resolution, employees have the option to pursue legal action against their employers.

This can involve filing a lawsuit to recover unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages, and attorney’s fees.

The statute of limitations for filing an FLSA lawsuit is generally two years, or three years in cases of willful violations.

Read article: Can I Get Fired For Not Working Overtime?

Suing the Employer for Unpaid Overtime

Employees who have not been paid overtime as required by the FLSA can sue their employers for the unpaid wages.

The lawsuit can seek to recover the unpaid overtime wages, as well as liquidated damages, which are equal to the amount of unpaid overtime.

Additionally, prevailing employees are entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs.

The legal process for suing an employer for unpaid overtime involves filing a complaint in federal court.

The complaint should outline the facts of the case, including the specific violations of the FLSA, the amount of unpaid overtime, and any other relevant details.

The employer will have the opportunity to respond to the complaint, and the case may proceed to discovery, where both parties gather evidence to support their respective positions.

In cases where multiple employees have been affected by the same wage and hour violations, they may have the option to pursue a collective action lawsuit, which allows multiple employees to join together in a single lawsuit to address common wage and hour violations.

Legal Defences Available for Employers

Employers may raise certain defences in response to allegations of unpaid overtime.

Common defences include asserting that the employees are exempt from overtime pay under the FLSA’s exemptions, disputing the number of hours worked by the employees, or arguing that the employees engaged in activities that are not compensable under the FLSA.

Employers may also argue that they acted in good faith and had reasonable grounds for believing that their actions complied with the FLSA.

However, the burden of proof is on the employer to demonstrate that they acted in good faith and that their actions were based on reasonable grounds.

Relevant Case Law: Suing an Employer For Unpaid Overtime?

Several court cases have addressed disputes over unpaid overtime and provided guidance on the interpretation and application of the FLSA.

For example, in the case of Anderson v Mt. Clemens Pottery Co (1946), the Supreme Court held that employees are not required to prove the precise amount of uncompensated work time under the FLSA if the employer’s records are inaccurate or inadequate.

This decision shifted the burden of proof to the employer to disprove the employees’ claims regarding unpaid overtime.

Another significant case is Christopher v SmithKline Beecham Corp (2012), where the Supreme Court clarified the criteria for determining whether pharmaceutical sales representatives are exempt from overtime pay under the FLSA’s outside sales exemption.

The Court’s decision provided important guidance on the application of FLSA exemptions to specific job roles.

What Is The Penalty For An Employer Not Paying Overtime?

Employers who refuse to pay overtime may face civil liability and be required to compensate employees for lost income. Additionally, federal repercussions for violating the FLSA include penalties such as 20% of all paid wages, 100% contributions for FICA, and possible criminal fines and imprisonment for the individual responsible.

How Far Back Can You Claim Unpaid Overtime?

Federal law sets a limit of two years for filing a claim for unpaid overtime pay, with an extension to three years if the employer “willfully” violated wage laws. Some states may have different statutes of limitations, such as six years in New York.

Read article: What Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Won’t Tell You

Which Type of Employees Are Entitled to An Overtime Pay?

Employees covered by the FLSA are generally entitled to overtime pay unless they fall into specific exempt categories. These exemptions (in a non-exhaustive list) include:

  • Volunteers.
  • Executive, administrative, and professional staff paid on a salary basis.
  • Independent contractors.
  • Employees at some small newspapers.
  • Casual domestic babysitters and companions for those who can’t care for themselves, excluding those providing nursing or a range of domestic services.
  • Outside sales staff who predominantly work away from the business premises, selling or taking orders for goods and services.
  • Staff at organised camps, or religious or nonprofit educational conference centers operating less than seven months annually.
  • Newspaper delivery persons.
  • Individuals involved in fishing operations.
  • Workers on small-scale farms.
  • Workers at seasonal amusement or recreational establishments, like ski resorts or county fairs.
  • Some switchboard operators.
  • Certain computer specialists like systems analysts, programmers, and software engineers (depending on salary).
  • Criminal investigators.
  • Seamen.

Conclusion

Employees who have not been paid overtime as required by the FLSA have legal options to address the violation, including filing a lawsuit against their employers to recover unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages, and attorney’s fees.

The legal process for suing an employer for unpaid overtime involves filing a complaint in federal court and may involve multiple employees joining together in a collective action lawsuit.

Employers may raise certain defenses in response to allegations of unpaid overtime, but the burden of proof is on the employer to demonstrate compliance with the FLSA.

Picture of Leticia Dubois, Ph.D.

Leticia Dubois, Ph.D.

Leticia has a first class LLB Degree from University of London, an LLM Degree and a Doctorate in International Commercial Law from Glasgow and Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Leticia teaches Finance Law, Insurance, Land Law, Insolvency Law and Entrepreneurship Law.

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