A couple of years ago I touched on how wage and hour lawsuits were on the rise. Since then Iowa’s own Casey’s General Stores got tagged for $11.7 million in a settlement. But not even I could have predicted the potential $1,000,000,000 liability that AT&T allegedly faces for failure to pay overtime. Yep, that’s a BILLION dollar claim!
Naturally that kind of pie in the sky number might leave one to think, "It’s never going to happen to me, my business is much smaller and I won’t be a target." But when you look at the fact that experts believe approximately 70 percent of businesses are out of compliance with wage and hour laws, you shouldn’t be quick to shrug off the prospects of a process server knocking on your door. All it takes is one disgruntled employee to contact the Iowa Workforce Development or the Department of Labor and you could find yourself in the middle of a wage and hour dispute.
- Conduct a Wage and Hour Review. Your first step should be to get with an employment law attorney or other wage and hour/human resources specialist who can review your pay practices to determine whether you are in compliance with the law. The cost spent for a review and developing a compliance program could save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run or perhaps even millions if you run a large company.
- Train Managers. Making sure managers understand the rules is paramount. Managers can avoid costly mistakes and spot problems before they become too costly.
- Think Exempt-Non Exempt, Not Just Salary – Hourly. Too many employers pay employees a salary and then believe that relieves them from any obligation to pay overtime. Employees need to make sure those employees are properly classified as exempt (someone who is typically not paid overtime) or non-exempt (someone that is generally entitled to overtime).
- Take Complaints on Wage Issues Seriously. You want to treat wage and hour complaints just as seriously as employment issues including harassment or discrimination. In fact, these wage and hour lawsuits could be more costly to your business.
- Do Not Retaliate. Never, never, never retaliate against someone that makes a complaint for wage and hour issues.
- Develop strong policies on pay practices and employee hours. Make sure employees work those hours assigned and do not work off-the-clock. Above all, properly document the number of hours worked because just like in baseball where a tie goes to the runner – if the employer has not documented the hours worked by the employee - the benefit of the doubt will go to the employee.