September 12, 2014

FLSA: counting the cost locally

Posted in Exempt/Non-Exempt Employees, Fair Labor Standards Act, Overtime tagged , , , , , , at 11:08 am by Tom Jacobson

time clockA Douglas County, MN employer recently learned a costly lesson when it misunderstood who is and is not exempt from the overtime pay requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In this case, an employee was given a “manager” title and paid a fixed salary, but the employee alleged that his duties were primarily custodial and customer service and did not fit within any exemption allowed by the FLSA. Applying the formula set by FLSA regulations, the employee converted his “salary” to an hourly rate ranging from $11.61 to $13.54 with an overtime premium ranging from $5.81 to $6.77 per hour.

Failing to pay an employee an additional $5.81 to $6.77 per hour may not seem like a terribly expensive mistake, but in this case the employee had evidence suggesting that he had worked about 640 hours of unpaid overtime during his last year of employment. This calculated to approximately $3,800.00 of unpaid overtime, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The FLSA also allows an employee to double the amount of unpaid back wages as liquidated damages, so using the employee’s figures, the $3,800.00 became $7,600.00.

To compound the problem, the employee claimed that the employer also withheld $1,300.00 of the his final wages in violation of Minn. Stat. § 181.13, thus triggering the 15 day wage penalty of that statute. This added another $1,700.00 to the employee’s claim.

Because these laws also allow the employee to recoup his attorney’s fees incurred in trying to recover his wages, he tacked them on as well. Those fees exceeded $4,000.00.

Thus, the employee argued that the employer’s $6.00 per hour mistake became a liability exceeding $14,000.00 (excluding the employer’s own attorney’s fees incurred in defending the claim). The case was eventually settled out of court with a confidential agreement between the parties.

The case illustrates how costly it can be when an employer improperly classifies a non-exempt employee as exempt under the FLSA. Simply calling someone a “manager” and paying her a fixed salary does not automatically make her exempt from overtime. This is because exemptions are highly dependent on the employee’s actual duties, not her title and form of pay. And, while an hour of unpaid overtime may not seem like a huge risk, when those hours accumulate over time and are doubled as liquidated damages, a few dollars can quickly become several thousand, especially when attorney’s fees and court costs are added. Moreover, it’s a much greater problem if multiple employees are involved.

For more information about FLSA exemptions, please contact me at or

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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