Based on the facts below, how do you think the courts ruled in this employment-law case?
“Wasn’t it common knowledge that product specialists like my client had to work more than 40 hours a week to get all their tasks done?” plaintiff’s lawyer Justin Case asked supervisor Kendra Mays.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Kendra replied. “We expected the specialists to budget their time in the office and in the field so they could complete their work in a normal 40-hour week. Clint Heisinger was no exception.”
“Sure, that’s the company line,” the lawyer said. “But in practice, it was impossible, wasn’t it?”
“No,” Kendra said. “Challenging, perhaps, but not impossible.”
Real hours ‘didn’t matter’
“Let’s move on to a specific conversation you had with Mr. Heisinger about his time card, on April 14,” Case said. “He made notes of it afterward. You said it didn’t matter how many hours he’d worked; he wasn’t to put down more than 40 on his timecard. And this wasn’t the only such conversation, was it?”
“Clint misremembers our talks,” Kendra said. “I always repeated our policy, which is that product specialists aren’t to work overtime without prior authorization. And that would be given only in truly unusual circumstances.”
“But if Clint told you he’d worked more than 40 hours – which he repeatedly did – wouldn’t your correct response have been to discipline him for breaking the rules?” Case asked. “You never did discipline him. So I suggest to this court that your recollections are faulty. I suggest you did in fact tell Mr. Heisinger he wasn’t to record certain hours he worked. You should have paid him, and you certainly shouldn’t have fired him for falsifying company records.”
Clint’s employer asked the court to dismiss his claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act, claiming unpaid overtime from the company. Clint wanted his day in court. Who prevailed?
Clint’s case got a boost when the court said it was strong enough to go to a jury.
The company argued (1) that Kendra never told Clint to falsify his time card, and (2) in any event, there was no way of knowing how much overtime he worked, if any.
The court rejected these arguments. It said Clint’s testimony about his conversations with Kendra was detailed and credible.
And the court said if there was uncertainty about the overtime Clint worked, it was the company’s own fault. When the case went to a jury, Clint would be allowed to present his rough estimates of his overtime, which he said ran to 1-5 hours nearly every week.
Takeaway: The way to handle unapproved overtime is not to deny payment. That opens a legal can of worms. Instead, verify that the overtime was in fact worked, document the lack of authorization, and discipline the worker per your policy or refer the matter to upper management or HR.
Cite: Kuebel v. Black & Decker Inc., No. 10-2273, 2nd Cir., 5/5/11.
photo credit: Marcin Wichary
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