Too many employers assume they can just classify employees as without being challenged. The truth is quite different.
In fact, many Fair Labor Standards Act overtime cases are filed when an employer fires an employee for entirely legitimate reasons.
Here’s what often happens: The fired employee visits a lawyer for an initial consultation. The lawyer asks probing questions about every aspect of the former employee’s job, including whether he was classified as exempt or hourly. If exempt, the attorney will look at the job description and ask the former employee what he actually did day to day.
If the exemption doesn’t quite fit, a lawsuit follows. Then it is up to the employer to prove the former employee and others similarly situated were properly classified.
Recent case: John Desmond and several other fellow employees lost their jobs as “racing officials” at Charles Town Races & Slots.
They hired an attorney and then sued, alleging they should have been paid overtime because their actual job duties didn’t fit the exemption the racetrack had used to classify them as exempt. They had been labeled exempt-administrative, largely because the state required their presence at the racetrack.
In reality, most days, they performed fairly routine work such as putting together racing programs and filling out forms.
The lower court said they were exempt, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. It said the employer hadn’t met its burden of proving the racing officials fit the administrative exemption.
The case will now be sent back for trial, and the employer may face thousands of dollars in back pay and penalties. (Desmond, et al., v. PNGI Charles Town Gaming, No. 08-1216, 4th Cir., 2009)
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