In our last post, we talked about eight ways for an employer to lose a noncompete case. Today, we cover something much simpler: how to lose a wage-and-hour lawsuit. It's really quite easy to do:
Just screw up an employee's pay.
That's all! No fussing, no mussing. You see, unlike in most any other kind of employee lawsuit, your employment counsel has no lawyer tricks to pull to defeat a wage claim. Either you paid the correct wages or you didn't.
In a disability-discrimination case, I can make technical, legalistic arguments about whether the employee is really disabled, whether he was otherwise qualified to do the job, whether a particular accomodation was reasonable, and so on. In a sexual-harassment case, I can argue that the sexual conduct wasn't egregious enough to alter the employee's working conditions, or that the conduct wasn't unwelcome (typical lawyer double negative), or that it wasn't even sexual conduct at all. Even in an overtime case, I have a shot. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act has so many exemptions and exceptions to exemptions and so forth that you can sometimes dodge that bullet.
But in a straight wage case, if the right wages weren't paid, it's "Goodnight, Irene." You're on the hook for the lost wages, and probably the employee's attorney's fees. In Massachusetts, you're looking at automatic triple damages. (See "Massachusetts: Closed for business.")
States take the payment of wages so seriously that they've created criminal penalties in addition to civil remedies (again, raise your hand, Massachusetts). The message is clear: don't mess with wages. Pay what you owe, pay it on time — especially around termination — and keep careful track of it. Otherwise, you're likely to pay a lot more.