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Lawsuit Reminds Business Owners of Employee Salary Laws

Business that have employees are usually aware there are laws that apply to the relationship between them, which must be followed to avoid a business from running into trouble. For example, even without an attorney, most of us know that discrimination can lead to severe civil liability, as can failing to pay employees money that they are due.

But one business has recently learned a very harsh lesson when it instituted a policy that—while harsh—doesn’t seem on the surface to be one that would lead to a serious lawsuit. It did, and now the business is on the hook for millions of dollars.

Suit Alleges Non-Payment of Bathroom Breaks

A business has been sued over a policy of making its employees clock out when they used the bathroom and other short breaks. The problem arose under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires, among other things, that workers be paid at least minimum wage. But the FLSA requires workers to be paid for short breaks—less than 20 minutes—if the company offers them, as this one did.

The problem often arises in the FLSA’s general definition of work. Whenever an employee is still under the direction of the employer, the employee is working, and needs to be paid. An employee going to the bathroom is usually still going to be considered “at work,” and under the control and direction of the employer; thus, that time can’t be excluded.

Business owners often run into this problem with lunch breaks. Many business don’t pay for employee lunch times. However, when their employee is at lunch, the business owner continues to ask them questions, have work conversations with them, make them man telephones, text them assignments, etc. In other words, the employee is still “on call” during lunch, but not being paid for that time.

When that unpaid time is added to the total time worked, the amount paid for all of the employee’s hours often falls short of FLSA requirements, leading to civil liability.

Avoiding FLSA problems

Business owners should be aware that if they are not paying employees for any time—lunch, vacation, leaving early, etc.—the employee should be let alone, and free from work.

Any breaks that are absolutely necessary to do the job—such as bathroom breaks, or, for physical jobs, short rest periods—should be paid, as the employee is still “at work” during those times.

There are some exceptions for employees in supervisory positions, but you should speak to an attorney before determining that an employee may be exempt from the law.

Owning a business can present problems you didn’t anticipate. Contact Tampa business attorney David Toback to discuss your needs and discuss how to make sure that your business is safe and in compliance with the law.

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