Off-the-clock allegations? Find the checkbook

If you discover you have made a wage-and-hour mistake, the safest approach is often to make it right as soon as possible. If you dispute an employee’s wage claim, you may wind up paying far more in legal fees than you would have if you had simply paid the money the worker claims you owe.

Recent case: Marcus and three co-workers at a Chipotle restaurant sued their employer, alleging that a manager, pursuant to what they claimed was official corporate policy, required them to work off the clock and without pay.

They originally sought to represent a nationwide class of similarly situated Chipotle employees.

The restaurant chain vigorously defended against the claim.

After discovery, it became clear that the off-the-clock work had occurred at Marcus’s restaurant because the manager admitted he had engaged in the practice. However, the nationwide claims were dismissed when no evidence surfaced that Chipotle demanded off-the-clock work at other restaurants.

The parties reached a settlement that would pay about $62,000 to Marcus and his co-workers, but left calculating attorneys’ fees to the court. It concluded that the attorneys were due almost $650,000 in fees and costs. (Harris et al. v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, DC MN, 2018)

Advice: Make sure supervisors and managers understand that they cannot violate the Fair Labor Standards Act by making hourly employees work without being clocked in. Pay extra attention to this problem if your managers receive incentives for controlling their labor budgets. They may be tempted to skirt the law if their bonuses depend on keeping hours low.