FLSA doesn’t protect every crabby gripe about pay

Employers can’t retaliate against workers who complain about alleged Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violations. However, not every complaint about pay is protected.

Recent case: Ava, an administrative assistant, routinely worked about 60 hours per week. When she took leave under the company’s paid-time-off (PTO) plan, she wanted those hours to be paid at the overtime rate. Her employer explained that PTO leave is always paid at an employee’s regular rate of pay.

Ava wrote several angry emails to HR griping about the policy.

This wasn’t the first time Ava’s emails had irritated her supervisors and HR. Previously, she had been disciplined for sending inappropriate emails complaining about cuts in her office-supply budget.

Ava was fired after she continued to claim overtime when she recorded PTO on her time sheets. The employer said that was insubordination.

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She sued, alleging she was fired in retaliation for raising an overtime complaint, in violation of the FLSA.

The court disagreed. It said her emails to HR weren’t protected activity. Nothing she complained about was anything she could reasonably have believed violated the FLSA. (Waddell v. Mustang Engineering, No. 4:14-CV-01473, SD TX, 2015)