In addition to protecting employees’ wage-and-hour rights, the Fair Labor Standards Act () protects employees from retaliation for asserting their pay rights. But until now, it was unclear whether it was protected activity to file an internal report that someone within the organization was violating the FLSA.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had jurisdiction over North Carolina employers, has ruled that it is. Employers that retaliate could face a lawsuit.
Recent case: Kathy Minor worked for Bostwick Laboratories as a medical technologist. She got good reviews and had never been disciplined. Then she met with the company’s chief operating officer to discuss her belief that her supervisor was willfully violating the FLSA.
Minor told the COO that her supervisor routinely altered employees’ time sheets to reflect that they had not worked overtime when they had. The COO said he would investigate. Instead, Minor was summarily terminated almost immediately. She sued.
The company argued she wasn’t protected from retaliation because she hadn’t complained to the U.S. Department of Labor. The court didn’t buy that reasoning. Instead, it said that an internal wage-and-hour complaint is also protected activity and can’t be punished. (Minor v. Bostwick Laboratories, No. 10-1258, 4th Cir., 2012)
Final note: Take all internal complaints seriously. Make sure that any subsequent discipline against the complaining employee is legitimate and without question unrelated to the complaint. Courts don’t like to see genuine and sincere whistle-blowers terminated or otherwise punished.