Once you find yourself involved in a federal Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit (whether as a plaintiff or a defendant,) you might imagine an elaborate litigation process with an intensely contested trial. Sometimes, that is what happens. Other times, different methods of resolution (that are frequently less involved and less expensive) may represent a more advantageous way to conclude a dispute. A skilled Atlanta wage-and-hour lawyer can be essential in helping you get a fair and just outcome – through litigation when necessary and through other means when that approach better serves your needs.

Many workers and/or employers may not fully understand how mediating an FLSA case works. A recent unpaid overtime case from the federal Southern District of Georgia court provides a useful background in walking through the process.

The Augusta-based employer allegedly violated the FLSA by improperly failing to pay one of its employees, P.J., overtime compensation and retaliating against him for complaining.

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many changes in the world of work, including a massive expansion of remote work. While remote work has been a boon to workers in many ways, it further blurs an already eroding line between when a worker is “on the clock” and off-the-clock time. Both employers and employees should be mindful that employees are entitled under the law to receive compensation for all the time spent working. If a non-exempt employee does off-the-clock work and doesn’t receive compensation, that may potentially represent a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Whether you are a non-exempt employee or an employer, a knowledgeable Atlanta wage and hour lawyer to discuss your situation and whether it complies with what the FLSA requires.

Remote work isn’t the only issue. The massive proliferation of high-speed internet connectivity and “smart” devices means workers can be “plugged in” to work at all hours and at any location.

Recently, a Duluth-based business researched the work employees do… and when they do it. The results were noteworthy. According to a Valdosta Today report, the study found that 40% of the nation’s workers were “working longer than their contracted hours.” Georgia is above the national average with 43% of Peach State workers reporting that they did work off the clock.

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Back in January, the U.S. Department of Labor published its annual report detailing the accomplishments of its Wage and Hour Division. The “WHD by the Numbers 2023” report revealed several key things. One was the cost of employers’ failure to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act. In 2023 alone, employers paid out more than $151 million to the WHD due to overtime and minimum wage violations. This should tell readers that FLSA non-compliance can be a substantial – and often unnecessary – drain on a business’s revenues. To ensure your business is fully compliant with all the FLSA’s demands, be sure you’ve consulted an experienced Atlanta wage and hour lawyer.

Overtime and minimum wage compensation are areas where misclassification often plays a major role. Overtime non-compliance can arise from misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor or misclassifying a non-exempt employee as an exempt employee. Misclassification-related minimum wage violations often are the result of erroneously classifying an employee as an independent contractor.

The report highlighted some other noteworthy information, including:

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Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the publication of a new regulation governing the salary minimums applicable to certain exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act; namely, the executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, [or] computer employee” (a/k/a “EAP”) exemption and the highly compensated employee (HCE) exemption. According to DOL estimates, the new rule is a major departure from the previous rule, potentially moving as many as four million employees from exempt to non-exempt status. This change may significantly benefit those workers who become non-exempt. It also represents a critical decision-making juncture for employers. To ensure your business remains compliant with the FLSA in the face of the changing exempt-versus-non-exempt landscape, consult a knowledgeable Atlanta wage and hour lawyer.

The new rule is the result of a months-long rulemaking process. Last September, the DOL published a proposed version of the regulation. The proposed rule called for increasing the minimum salary level for qualifying as an exempt EAP employee to $1,059 per week (or $55,068 annually.) The department chose that figure because it represented “the 35th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region.” (By the way, that lowest region is here in the South.)

The proposed rule also called for raising the minimum salary for qualifying under the HCE exemption to $143,988 annually. That figure was equal to the “annualized weekly earnings of the 85th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally.”

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Unpaid overtime lawsuits pursued under the Fair Labor Standards Act are often complex matters. That’s true even if the parties avoid a trial and instead settle their dispute. Getting what you deserve from your settlement requires several crucial things, including negotiating an agreement that meets all your essential needs, executing an agreement that is clear, detailed, unambiguous, and complete, and taking all necessary actions to uphold your rights obtained in that agreement. As you work toward completing any of these steps, representation from an experienced Atlanta unpaid overtime lawyer can be vital to your success and protecting your interests.

A recent case from the federal courts is a relevant example. The lawsuit, which the workers filed in the Northern District of Georgia in 2019, alleged claims of unpaid overtime in violation of the FLSA. Although the workers originally sought more than $800,000 in damages, they and the employer eventually agreed to a settlement of $60,000. The agreement called for the employer to pay $10,000 upfront (within seven days) and then pay $1,000 each month for 50 months.

The contract also stated that if the employer didn’t pay, paid late, or otherwise defaulted on its obligations, the workers were required to contact the employer’s lawyer and give the employer seven days to cure the default. If the employer did not respond satisfactorily within seven days, then the workers were entitled to a $100,000 judgment against the employer and its owner.

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One month ago today, a new U.S. Department of Labor rule updating the standard for classifying workers as employees or independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act became effective. The new rule has received extensive coverage, with some commentators praising it as a needed expansion of workers’ rights, while others disparaged it as unfairly restricting opportunities for freelancers. Regardless of one’s perspective, the rule is now effective and employers and workers alike should familiarize themselves with its elements and its impact on their jobs or businesses. Whether you’re a worker or an employer, classification errors under the FLSA can potentially be highly damaging, which is why it’s vital to consult a knowledgeable Atlanta wage and hour lawyer about your situation.

As this blog discussed in October 2022, the new rule utilizes the “economic realities” test to determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The rule calls upon decision-makers to make assessments using six economic realities. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Georgia, Alabama, and Florida,) described those six in 2013 as:

  1. the degree to which the hiring entity has a right to control how the work is performed;

When people hear the word “discrimination,” they may often associate it with historically marginalized groups, like people of color, women, LGBT+ people, and so forth. The law, however, is broader than that. Federal anti-discrimination statutes protect people who encounter discrimination based on protected characteristics, regardless of whether or not they were members of a historical minority/disadvantaged group. Even if you’re male, White, American, or “straight,” you still have the possibility of pursuing – and winning – a federal discrimination lawsuit. So, if you’ve endured this sort of harm, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced Atlanta employment discrimination lawyer to discuss your legal options.

A federal race discrimination case that originated in neighboring Alabama exemplifies this point. T.P., a White woman, worked for a cabinet manufacturer inspecting and repairing cabinets. As workloads increased, so did employee hours. Several employees complained about the long hours, including T.P. and two of her Black colleagues. Allegedly, the operations manager, who also was Black, fired T.P. for complaining but issued no discipline to the two Black workers who complained. According to the employer, T.P. was fired for “insubordination.”

That treatment served as the basis for T.P.’s federal race discrimination lawsuit under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. In addition to the complaining incident, T.P. had other alleged evidence of racially disparate treatment. She provided the court with a set of the employer’s disciplinary records, which included 12 circumstances where employees of color were cited for insubordination but were not fired. At least three of those 12 were subordinates of the same operations manager who fired T.P.

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Sometimes, a degree of employer flexibility may be an important ingredient in that employer avoiding employment litigation and potential civil liability. However, as a recent disability discrimination case originating in Savannah highlights, the mere fact that an employer behaved in a way that seems excessively strict, harsh, or severe, doesn’t necessarily mean the employer broke the law. Even if the employer fired a worker based on motivations that were not “prudent or fair” — or had no reason at all for the termination — that firing is permissible as long as it “was not rooted in discrimination” or some other basis forbidden by law. Whether you’re an employer defending against a disability discrimination lawsuit or a worker harmed by illegal discrimination, an experienced Atlanta disability discrimination lawyer can be crucial in protecting your rights and interests.

The worker in the Savannah case was a crane operator for the State of Georgia’s ports authority. He also was an Army veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his time in combat.

In the summer of 2018, the operator requested 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to undergo “intensive therapy” for PTSD. As the 12 weeks neared their end, the operator’s doctor recommended 12 more weeks of leave, and the employer approved the extension. Near the end of the second 12-week period, the operator requested a transfer to a different work area. HR informed the operator that he needed to submit a signed letter that (1) stated he could safely return to work and (2) listed the disability accommodation (transfer) he sought.

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Whether you are an employer or a worker, employee-versus-nonemployee classification for purposes of employment law is a vital step, and the extreme importance of this classification process is something where you definitely should consult a knowledgeable Atlanta wage and hour lawyer. As a worker, misclassification may improperly deny you access to many statutory rights, including those guaranteed by the Fair Labor Status Act. As an employer, misclassification can inflict its own potential harm, including legal liability and an obligation to pay substantial court-ordered compensation to the worker(s) who sued your business.

Often, misclassification disputes involve deciding whether a worker is an employee or an independent (1099) contractor. As an FLSA case that recently came before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates, that’s not the only way that misclassification can occur, and any classification that improperly fails to designate a worker as an employee can have serious negative consequences.

The plaintiffs performed services at a public golf club in South Florida. These roles included course rangers, cart attendants, driving range attendants, and bag drop attendants. The county specifically listed the positions as “volunteer” roles. They received no wages but were allowed to accept tips. As a perk, volunteers performing these tasks were entitled to “reduced fees to play and practice golf.” Specifically, volunteers who worked at least one seven-hour shift each week were entitled to “unlimited” rounds of golf at a steep discount ($5 per round instead of the standard $96 per round.)

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Whether you’re an employee who’s endured discrimination or an employer facing a discrimination claim, it is important to understand how the employment discrimination litigation process works. An employee’s success is predicated upon clearing a series of evidentiary hurdles. For employers, success may lie in persuading the court that any one of those components was lacking. Whichever side you’re on, an experienced Atlanta employment discrimination lawyer can help you pursue your case in the most effective way possible.

As we noted last month, workers who allege employment discrimination may prove their cases either by presenting a “convincing mosaic” of circumstantial evidence or by satisfying the elements of the test created by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1973 case of McDonnell Douglas v. Green. A recent federal race discrimination case from here in Atlanta shows the McDonnell Douglas procedure at work, and how a single evidentiary flaw can doom a worker’s case.

The employee was a sales representative for an analytic and diagnostic lab. After two years, the lab fired the representative. It said she had underperformed. She said it was race and gender discrimination.

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