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Supreme Court: Complaints don’t have to be in writing to be protected

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in Employment Law,HR Management

Employees are now three-for-three in Supreme Court employment law cases this term, now that the High Court has ruled that an employee’s Fair Labor Standards Act complaints don’t have to be written to be protected from retaliation by their employers.

The court ruled 6-2 that employee Kevin Kasten’s oral complaints about his employer’s time clocks were just as valid as a written complaint. The court handed down its opinion in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics (09-834, U.S. Supreme Court, 2011) on March 22.

The lesson for employers: Any time a worker complains about wage-and-hour issues—even if it's only a verbal comment—make a note for your records. And remind everyone involved that they mustn't retaliate against the employee.

The case is yet another victory for employees arguing cases in the 2010-11 Supreme Court term. The court previously ruled in employees’ favor in:

  • Staub v. Proctor Hospital, in which the court concluded that a member of the military reserves had been fired from his civilian job because of his bosses’ anti-military bias, even though the HR person who actually terminated him didn’t know that the supervisors were discriminating against him.
  • Thompson v. North American Stainless, in which the court ruled that it might be retaliation if an employer fires the fiancé of another employee who has complained about discrimination.

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