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Workplace: Wage and Hour Legal Actions Increasing

Riverside Press-Enterprise (California) (04/28/12) Jack Katzanek

The number of overtime lawsuits brought in federal court last year was 32% higher than in 2008. According to research by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, 7,006 lawsuits, including many class actions, were filed in 2011, almost four times as many as were filed in 2000. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor recovered $225 million from employers in back wages in fiscal 2011, up 28% from the previous year.

Worker advocates and other analysts say that these claims are being filed because companies are striving to get the same volume of work done despite having laid off 9 million workers due to the recession. “When there are increased pressures on employers to keep down labor costs in a down economy, and fewer employment options for employees, it isn’t surprising that legal and ethical problems with regard to compensation have increased,” says Jeffery Smith, a professor of ethics at the University of Redlands School of Business. Smith says that workers are frequently misclassified and listed as not legally entitled to overtime.

Matthew Bartosiak, senior consultant for the human resources consulting firm Employers Group, says “many employers unfortunately still wrongly classify workers because they don’t understand the laws. Most think exemption is a choice, and they think employees want to be exempt because they see it as a status symbol.”