A federal judge ordered a company to pay $1.75 million to thousands of employees who had to clock out while going on short breaks. The court has made it clear that organizations can’t dock pay for taking “personal breaks”.
A Malvern company that publishes newsletters on business topics has been fined for docking pay of employees for bathroom and other short breaks. From the estimated $1.75 million fine, the Pennsylvania-based company will compensate the employees with back pay as well as damages.
A federal judge ordered the company, identified as American Future Systems, to give $1.75 million back to the 6,000 employees who had to suffer the indignity of having their pay docked for taking bathroom breaks, reported Smart Brief. The $1.75 million fine comprises of back pay and damages to 6,000 employees. These workers, who had to think twice before leaving their desk, worked at the company’s offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio between July 2009 and July 2013.
Interestingly, it is not the indignity that the court zeroed in to fine the company. Instead, the lawsuit filed by the Department of Labor in 2012 claimed that the company violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. According to the lawsuit, the employees weren’t earning the minimum wage – $7.25 per hour – during the time the company required them to clock out for breaks. However, Adam Welsh, a senior trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Philadelphia office, did mention the humiliating conundrum,
“No worker should have to face the choice: Do I take a bathroom break, or do I get paid?”
What’s surprising, besides the compulsion to clock out during bathroom breaks, is the fact that the law of the land doesn’t require companies to give workers personal breaks, reported CTV News. From a legal standpoint, the Fair Labor Standards Act mentions that companies aren’t required to give workers short personal breaks — under 20 minutes. However, if the company does choose to offer breaks, it must pay workers for them. In simple words, you cannot allow workers to take bathroom breaks, but dock their pay for the same.
Apparently, the company violated the rules, when it issued a written policy in July 2009, which categorically mentioned that workers could take breaks “at any time” but those breaks wouldn’t be paid. In its defense, the company maintained that that federal law didn’t require it to pay employees for short breaks because employees were completely relieved from duty and could do what they wanted during that time, reported New York Daily News.
But the judge strongly disagreed. Though the judge did cite Labor Department regulations, he did suggest the importance of short breaks and the necessity that they be paid.
Majority of the employees who had to make the decision of staying put to continue earning or leaving the desk and risking pay are telemarketers who offer free subscriptions to the company’s 20 newsletters, one of which is ironically titled Keeping Up to Date on Payroll. First few of the newsletters are free, but subscribers are billed for subsequent issues automatically, unless they cancel their subscriptions.
Since employees receive an hourly rate and a bonus based on sales, the company must be employing many techniques to keep productivity at its peak. Since the callers are expected to sound polite and energetic for every phone call, the need for short breaks is critical, noted Regina Asbury in an affidavit. Asbury worked at the company’s Uniontown office from June 2010 to July 2013.
U.S. District Judge L. Felipe Restrepo has given the Labor Department and the company, American Future Systems Inc., which does business as Progressive Business Publications, until Thursday to submit their proposals for how to manage the payment process, including the final tab, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
[Photo by Jewel Samad / Getty Images]