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HR director can file wage-and-hour complaint

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Generally, employees who complain to their employer that they aren’t being properly paid or classified under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are protected from retaliation for those complaints. But what about a manager? Is informing her supervisors that the company isn’t in compliance a “complaint?”

Recent case: Alla, her company’s HR director, frequently told her supervisors that she believed the company wasn’t complying with the FLSA and urged them to remedy the situation. After a little more than a year, Alla was fired.

She sued, alleging that she had been fired in retaliation for complaining about FLSA violations.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals looked at the context of the complaint. If an entry-level employee had reported an FLSA violation and asked the employer to comply, a reasonable employer almost certainly would understand that report as a “complaint.”

But if the identical report were made by a manager tasked with ensuring the company’s compliance with the FLSA, a reasonable employer almost certainly would not understand that report as a “complaint” (again, depending  on all the circumstances). Rather, the employer would understand the manager as having reported the problem as part of carrying out her duties. In short, when determining whether an employee has filed a complaint, the employee’s role as a manager may be an important contextual element.

In this case, the court decided Alla wasn’t actually responsible for FLSA administration, even though she was HR director. She merely told her boss what she believed the company should be doing. Therefore, her statements were “complaints” that gave her employer “fair notice” that it may not have been compliant.

She can therefore sue for retaliation for engaging in protected activity. (Rosenfield v. Global Tranz, No. 2:11-CV-02327, 9th Cir., 2015)

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