Eliminating overtime is a practical way for employers to control and reduce payroll costs. However, employers cannot fire employees for requesting payment for an overtime claim. This is due to a law under the Fair Labor Standards Act, stating that it is against federal law to retaliate against an employee for bringing an overtime claim or asserting any other rights established by the Act.
According to the United States Department of Labor, employees covered by the Act must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate of at least time and one-half their regular rate of pay. It does not require overtime pay for working on Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays unless overtime is worked on those days. Normally, overtime pay earned in a particular week must be paid on the regular payday for the pay period in which the wages were earned.
Common overtime claims may include:
- Employers mistakenly treating employees as “exempt” from the Act’s overtime requirements
- Employers failing to identify, record, or compensate “off-the-clock” hours spent by employees performing compensable, job-related duties
- Employers failing to include “wage arguments” such as longevity pay when calculating an employee’s overtime rate
The Act states that an employer must pay an employee for overtime worked, even if the employer did not approve the overtime. Note that in this situation, the employer may have a discipline policy for disregarding rules and/or authority, but they cannot retaliate for an employee simply requesting payment for their hours worked.
If an employer dismisses an employee with an unlawful motive, they are in violation of the law. An employer cannot fire an employee for bringing an overtime claim against them. According to the Act, “Where the immediate cause or motivating factor of a discharge is an employee’s assertion of rights under the Act, the discharge is discriminatory whether or not other grounds for discharge exist.”
Additionally, the employer is legally unable to retaliate in any of the following ways:
- Demoting an employee
- Reducing hours or responsibilities
- Changing job titles
- Assigning unusual labor, menial tasks, or “dirty jobs”
- Withholding resources necessary to do the job
- Poor treatment compared to other employees
In order to prove that the employer has illegally retaliated against an employee, evidence must be gathered. How quickly the retaliation occurred after the employee’s action is often a strong indicator of motive. For example, if an employee requests payment for an overtime claim and they are fired shortly thereafter, there is a better can for retaliation than if they are fired months after the fact. Additionally, the employer’s history of similar actions, their initial response to the employee’s complaint, and other indicating factors can be used for proof in a claim.
In some cases, punitive damages could also be awarded to the employee. These damages are intended to punish the employer for their inappropriate and illegal actions.