Friday, October 21, 2011

Fired for Working Too Much - COTW #63

Sometimes employment laws lead to seemingly silly results - perhaps we can call them "unintended consequences" to borrow a term from economics (what can I say? The law and econ lessons from my days at George Mason have stuck with me). Need an example? A Target employee just filed a lawsuit alleging that he was fired for working on his breaks (read the Complaint here).

Why in the world would an employer fire an employee who works off the clock and provides some extra services during what is supposed o be his break time? It turns out that this kind of makes sense when you think about it from the employer's perspective.

As an employer, should you have policies that prohibit employee activity that can get you sued? It's probably a good idea. If someone violates that policy should you do something? Again, probably a good idea (doesn't necessarily have to be termination though). Under the FLSA, are non-exempt employees entitled to compensation for all time worked? Generally, yup. Logical conclusion? When employees work "off the clock," employers have to worry that they will incur liability down the line.

The irony here, is that Target got hit with an FLSA suit anyway. The employee claims he had to take 30-minute breaks each day. However, he was acting as shift manager and would get interrupted all the time (cashier needed help, security issues, etc.). So, why didn't he just punch in and go back on the clock? He claims the clocks were rigged to prohibit punching back in until the break was over.

Why would the employer do that? Probably to keep employees on exact schedules to make sure they work full-time but not overtime (another consequence of FLSA - employers bend over backwards to keep employees from going into overtime because the employer must pay them time and a half).

The employee claims he was not compensated for this off the clock time that he was required to work, and terminated for raising these issues with management. How could Target have avoided all of these problems? Probably pretty easily - just have salaried, exempt managers (which they did) but actually have one present to cover the now-plaintiff's interruptions.

HT: Gawker - Target Manager: I Was Fired for Working Off the Clock (fair warning - not exactly an objective look at the story).

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.