A couple of weeks ago, I was in a mediation with a federal magistrate judge involving overtime claims. After the mediation had ended, I asked the judge about the growth of overtime litigation in federal court. The judge estimated that 20 – 25% of the cases in his federal courthouse are overtime claims.
At first, I thought that this was a staggering number. When I think of the federal courts, I think of constitutional issues and lawsuits involving the federal government. But, after I gave it some more thought, the number started to seem more believable. Given the proliferation of lawyers advertising for overtime cases on television as well as the ability of plaintiffs in such cases to make claims for penalties and attorney’s fees in addition to their claims of unpaid wages (not to mention the fact that this can be done for entire classes of employees), it makes sense that overtime lawsuits are crowding the dockets of federal judges.
In fact, it would seem as though overtime lawsuits are likely to become even more common. As you may have seen, the Department of Labor recently made changes to the overtime exemption rules that, no surprise, are extremely favorable to employees. Of significant note, employees that were subject to the white collar exemptions based on their job functions (administrative, executive, professional) were exempt from the overtime requirements if they received a weekly salary of $455. This threshold will only remain in place until December 1, 2016, at which time a new standard will go into effect. In fact, the Department of Labor has more than doubled the requisite salary to satisfy these exemptions to $913 per week.
Television commercials targeting overtime lawsuits, the prospects of potential windfall recoveries, and regulations that significantly increase the burdens on employers suggest that overtime lawsuits will continue to proliferate. These trends demonstrate the increasing likelihood that any employer will have to defend against overtime claims. While it is not possible to have employees and be entirely immune from the risk of overtime claims, it is possible to reduce the risk and be better prepared if and when an overtime claim is made. Given the fact that there is no reason to think this trend will slow in the near future, it makes sense to take steps to get ahead of the curve.
ABOUT RUSSELL BERGER
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Russell Berger is an accomplished labor and employment attorney who is well-versed in litigating in both state and federal courts, as well as providing counsel to employers on employee matters. He represents employers, businesses and professional clients in employment disputes throughout the country. Mr. Berger primarily focuses on litigating and counseling clients regarding matters of minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act and state laws, wrongful termination, non-compete agreements, and employment and severance agreements. Mr. Berger’s practice also includes handling claims and providing counsel regarding retaliation, discrimination and harassment (under Title VII and state anti-discrimination laws), as well as under other federal statutes, such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and American with Disabilities Act (ADA). He also handles other work related issues such as employment contracts and general contract claims, employment-related tort claims, and other business and professional tort claims.
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