Despite the politicians telling us that the economy is fine, many workers know the truth. Raises are few and far between. That is unfortunate, but not illegal. When an employer refuses to pay for times worked or refuses to pay overtime, the conduct becomes illegal. Not paying employees for time worked or OT is considered wage theft. And under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), affected workers can receive double damages and legal fees.
Phil Ewing was a forklift operator at Smithfield Foods. With consumers, Smithfield is known for its ham. Among workers, however, the company is known for fighting its 48,000 employees, especially unionized line workers.
Ewing says he was fired for helping workers with their grievances with the company. He was both a forklift operator and a union steward. One of the persistent labor issues concerns overtime pay. Earlier this month, five female workers filed a wage theft complaint against the company. They say they were not paid for the time it takes to put on and take off protective equipment.
The time spent donning and doffing safety equipment sounds trivial but we know from another case that it takes 18 to 21 minutes. Do that twice a day when entering the work place and leaving and when going on breaks and that time adds up quickly.
Ordinarily, lawyers wouldn’t be interested in these cases. Workers struggling to make ends meet and feed their families usually don’t have thousands of dollars in extra cash lying around. (If they did, we wouldn’t recommend they spend it on lawyers!) The FLSA, however, says that the employer must pay for the worker’s legal fees if the claim is successful. Suddenly the playing field is level.
Better yet, the worker can receive double back wages.
The law also has anti-retaliation provisions. Ewing’s case is still in its infancy but if he was fired for helping other workers with their lost wage claims, he may be eligible for reinstatement and back pay.
As for the five women, they are trying to make their case a class action. If successful, Smithfield may be writing checks to 700 workers at their Sioux City, Iowa plant.
Not every worker is entitled to overtime or paid breaks. There are exemptions for professional employees, agricultural workers, firefighters and others. If you are unsure if you qualify, give us a call. You can also visit our FLSA information page.
In this economy, make sure you get every penny for which you are entitled. Don’t let your employer steal from your family. For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at (414) 704-6731 (direct). No answering service, no junior lawyer, I am the only one who answers the phone. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept in complete confidence.
MahanyLaw – America’s Wage Theft and FLSA Lawyers