One of the most complicated provisions in federal statutes and regulations that govern minimum compensation is the provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requiring payment of overtime to workers who work more than 40 hours in a week.
The Wage and Hour division of the Labor Department is commonly suing employers who violate these provisions, whether they do so intentionally or not. The Labor Department recently recovered more than $167,000 from Columbia Empire Farms, Inc., a Sherwood farm that failed to pay workers for overtime.
The case against the employer
Columbia Empire Farms grows fruit crops and makes and sells preserves, syrups, and similar products, misused an overtime pay exemption and did not pay more than $100,000 to 43 employees. Some of the employees worked up to 75 hours in a single week without receiving overtime pay.
An important exemption for many Oregon employers is the partial exemption for agricultural employees, who are not entitled to mandatory overtime until they have worked more than 55 hours in a week. The 55-hour limit applies only to field workers and does not cover those working in packing houses and processing plants.
The Labor Department said that Columbia Empire Farms misused the 55-hour exemption by lumping exempt hours for field work with non-exempt hours for working in a packing house and paying straight time for all hours.
Back wages and penalties
The Department of Labor recovered $167,179 in back wages for the 43 employees for unpaid overtime, and $83,589 in wages and damages for late payments. Employers are required to pay seasonal agricultural workers at least twice a month; the Labor Department found that some workers were only paid once a month.
Private right of action
In this case, the Labor Department used its own lawyers to research and bring the case to court. Employees should also know that they can sue an employer for unpaid overtime and, if they win, can recover attorneys’ fees and costs from their employer.