Worker claimed employer’s violations were “willful”

When an employee’s job responsibilities shift, perhaps as part of a company reorganization, it’s important to ask: Does that person’s exemt or nonexempt status in the payroll system need to change?

One New York company had to defend itself in a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuit because a worker claimed he should have been paid overtime after he stepped into a new job.

The employee had worked for Hover-David as a quality engineer exempt from overtime for over a decade. No problem there.

But in 2012, when the company asked him to switch to a repair organization technician position, it still classified him as exempt.

He worked 45 to 50 hours per week without receiving overtime pay, while the other technicians, who were consistently classified as nonexempt, earned time-and-a-half.

The company returned hi to his original position as a quality engineer in 2016, but two years later, he lost his job altogether when his position at the company was eliminated. The employee hadn’t forgotten about those four years of not being paid overtime, and he sued.

More facts needed

The case reached the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The bottom line: The company won, but if the employee had acted sooner, the situation might have been much more costly.

Under the FLSA, there’s a two-year statute of limitations. The employee still could have proceeded given that the three-year window for “willful” violations was still open.

However, a mere allegation of willfulness wasn’t enough, the Second Circuit said on April 27, 2021. If he had provided more facts, though, the case could have ended differently.

Avoid the mess

Remember, when someone’s job duties change, his or her status as overtime exempt may be impacted.

The longer you wait to start paying any overtime due, the more messy the situation becomes.