What Counts as a Complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act? – Part 1

The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments about whether an employee who walks up to a supervisor to inform the supervisor of a potential illegal act counts as filing a formal complaint with an employer. The question will play a role in helping the Supreme Court decide whether a former plastics worker will get retaliation protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In this post, we will discuss the events that led up to the arguments before the United States Supreme Court. In the next post, we will discuss the arguments on both sides of the issue.

The former worker of a Wisconsin plastics manufacturing company orally notified the plastics company that the company’s time clocks were placed in an illegal location that prevented employees from earning all of their overtime. The plastics company moved the clocks but fired the worker the same day the time clocks were relocated. The company settled with its other workers for $1.5 million.

The former plastics worker filed a lawsuit against the company claiming that the company fired him in retaliation for the verbal complaints he made about the illegal location of the clocks. A federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit did not find in the worker’s favor. Both courts ruled the anti-retaliation provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act only protects written complaints.

The attorney representing the former plastics worker provided a background to his argument by explaining that 95 percent of workers in low-wage industries orally make their complaints to their supervisors or employers. In the next post, we will discuss in greater detail the arguments on both sides.

Source: The Associated Press, “Court Grapples with Verbal Vs. Written Complaints,” 10/13/10

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