Large settlements in two unpaid wage lawsuits were recently in the news. Brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the employees in these cases alleged they were not paid by their employers for all time worked. The cases are a good example of how employees can group together when their employers fail to pay them for their work.
In the first case, a group of employees at Gerdau Ameristeel U.S., Inc. alleged that the company failed to pay them for all overtime they worked. According to the employees, the company failed to pay overtime to employees for the time they spent putting on and removing — otherwise known as “donning and doffing” — protective gear. The case settled for $3.1 million.
In the second case, a group of clinical employees at UMass Memorial Medical Center, Inc. alleged the Hospital failed to pay them for time spent working through lunch breaks and outside scheduled shifts. Although subject to court approval, the proposed settlement in the case is $2.2 million.
The Fair Labor Standards Act ensures that employers don’t cut corners and short employees on wages. Employees are entitled to be paid for their work, and unless employees are specifically exempted by the FLSA, they are entitled to overtime for all hours worked over 40 per workweek. The Gerdau and UMass cases are only some of the many common types of unpaid wage cases seen under the FLSA.
Recognizing the seriousness of an employer’s failure to pay its employees, the FLSA provides significant remedies to employees. In addition to unpaid wages, the FLSA provides for “liquidated damages” — essentially an amount equal to the sum of the unpaid wages. Attorneys’ fees, which can easily reach six figures, are also recoverable. When an employer has failed to pay large groups of employees, as in these recent cases, the employees can group together in one lawsuit. Where the cases have merit, the result can be a very large recovery to employees who haven’t been paid what they are owed.