Believe It or Not: Employer Refused to Pay Workers for Restroom Breaks
Company liable for back pay and damages after violating federal labor law
Imagine looking at your pay stub and finding out that you were docked for every time you went to the restroom.
That’s what a large group of telemarketers at Progressive Business Publications say happened to them. They claim that they were forced to log out of their computers whenever they left their desks for any reason. After 90 seconds, they were automatically clocked out.
Since many people were unable to complete a trip to the restroom and log back in within the prescribed time, they ended up being docked for multiple two- and three-minute breaks throughout the work week. That resulted in some workers making less than minimum wage.
Someone complained to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and the federal government took up the case. It sued the company on behalf of 6,000 current and former employees.
The company lost the case, and it also just recently lost its appeal. However, its argument before the court shows the lengths that some unscrupulous employers will go to to avoid paying employees their rightfully earned wages.
Break? What’s a Break?
In court, the DOL argued that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) clearly and unambiguously states that breaks of five to 20 minutes must be compensated. These breaks allow employees to use the restroom, get a drink, or make a phone call without penalty during the workday.
However, Progressive claimed that it didn’t offer breaks. Rather, it said that it had a “flex” policy, in which workers were free to make their own hours. When an employee logged out of the system, he or she was free to cease working for any amount of time desired. In fact, the company stated, workers were even free to leave the building and not return to work at all that day.
However, the appeals court didn’t buy that argument. In its opinion, it stated that the company was essentially forcing people to choose between attending to the basic life function of using the bathroom or getting paid.
It pointed out that for many people, it was unreasonable to expect to be able to complete a restroom trip in under 90 seconds.
The court found that Progressive’s policy entirely missed the point of the FLSA.
The company must now payback wages and damages to the 6,000 workers represented in the lawsuit. The total is estimated to be around $1.75 million.
(The case discussed here is Unites States Department of Labor v. American Future Systems, d/b/a Progressive Business Publications.)
What You Need to Know
Many people are surprised to learn that federal law doesn’t guarantee most hourly employees any specific breaks.
However, if an employer does offer breaks, the FSLA states that breaks of 20 minutes or less must be compensated.
Breaks of more than 20 minutes do not have to be compensated under federal law.
Call Us for a Consultation Now
Laws surrounding wage and hour issues can be complicated. It’s important to note that different states and municipalities may have their own laws related to breaks and compensation.
That’s why it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney if you suspect you’ve been a victim of wage theft.
Call us to discuss your unique situation today.