Supreme Court: Oral complaints are protected under FLSA
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Supreme Court: Oral complaints are protected under FLSA

The Supreme Court has been busy with employment law decisions, including a ruling on the hot topic of retaliation.

In this case, the court said that if employees make an oral complaint about what they believe to be a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the law protects them from retaliation just as it does if they make a formal, written complaint.

This point of law was already established for Title VII, the main federal anti-discrimination law. But it wasn’t previously clear with regard to the FLSA, which regulates wage/hour issues like overtime.

Taking employees’ side
Once again, the Supreme Court came down on the side of employees in a retaliation case, as it has four times since its landmark White v. Burlington Northern decision in 2006. (That case expanded the definition of what constitutes retaliation, and has helped trigger a spurt in filings of retaliation lawsuits by employees.)

What should HR do now that the Court has defined oral complaints also qualify as protected activity?

  • Make sure supervisors know they must respond – or come to you – when employees complain about wage/hour or discrimination issues.
  • If you’re investigating an incident with an eye to discipline, ask supervisors about oral complaints by the employee under investigation in addition to written ones.
  • You may want to review your complaint channels to see if they’re user-friendly, or whether they subtly discourage formal complaints. It’s easier to document and deal with a formal complaint than an informal, oral one.

Cite: Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., No. 09-834, U.S. Sup., 3/22/11.

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