Department of Labor sues on behalf of 6,000 workers

One local employer just provided a prime example of how far some companies will go to shortchange their employees.

Progressive Business Publications, based in Malvern, PA, was sued by the Department of Labor on behalf of 6,000 current and former telemarketing employees last year. The charge: the workers said that the company was violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by failing to pay them for breaks of under 20 minutes.

The telemarketers had to log out of their computers every time they left their desks. After 90 seconds of being logged out, they would be clocked out of the timekeeping system.

Translation: workers frequently had to choose between going to the restroom or getting paid.

Thankfully, federal labor laws exist to combat this kind power imbalance that allows an employer to line his or her own pockets at the expense of employees.

A Break by Any Other Name … Is Still a Break

We originally wrote about this case last year, when it went to court the first time. Then, the company lost and was ordered to pay back pay and liquidated damages to affected employees—a sum that was expected to be in the range of $1.75 million.

However, the company appealed, citing a rather novel argument. It alleged that it was not flouting the FLSA provision that requires that breaks of 20 minutes or less are compensated—a provision that was basically designed to allow employees to visit the restroom, get a cup of coffee, or make a phone call during the work day.

Rather, the company argued that it had a “flex time” policy, that allowed workers the privilege of making their own hours. The company reasoned that telemarketers were not required to return to their desks after a break—they could just leave if they wanted to.

However, when workers’ pay was computed at the end of a pay period, all the logged-out time was deducted from their hourly wages—including breaks as short as two and three minutes that occurred while employees were visiting the restroom. 

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t buy the argument. It found that the company clearly violated well-established and unambiguous labor laws.

(The case discussed here is Unites States Department of Labor v. American Future Systems, d/b/a Progressive Business Publications.) 

What You Should Know About Breaks 

If you suspect that your employer is shortchanging your pay related to breaks, here’s what you need to know:

  • Neither federal nor Pennsylvania law guarantee most hourly employees any specific breaks, for meals or otherwise. However, if employers choose to offer breaks, they must comply with federal and state laws.
  • According to both federal and Pennsylvania law, breaks of less than 20 minutes must be compensated

Call Us For a Free Consultation 

If you suspect that your pay has been unfairly docked over breaks, or if your paychecks have been short for any other reason, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney who has experience in handling wage and hour violations. 

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation to find out more about your rights.