Sorry Kid, No Overtime for Movie Projectionists

Last week, the #1 article from Sunday's edition of The New York Times was an Op-Ed piece highlighting the antiquated Federal Labor Laws that exclude millions of workers from receiving potential overtime.

Movie Projectionists are excluded from overtime under RCW 49.46.130“Sorry kid,” movie projectionists are excluded from overtime under RCW 49.46.130

Under Federal law, employees holding perceived white-collar positions like supervisor, manager, even vice president may be exempt from overtime requirements, even though their gross hourly rate is less than $12 an hour. Even in Washington State, a forum recognized for its strong labor laws, there contains noted exceptions for “administrative” and “executive” positions. As a result, an hourly manager at McDonald's may not be entitled to overtime and other protections under the Washington State Minimum Wage Act “MWA”. Parallel exclusions under the Federal Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) include country elevator workers, newspaper delivery persons, sugar processing employees, and radio station employees. Yes, even movie projectionists are exempt from the 40-hour overtime requirements. These and other provisions of the WMA are ripe to be updated to reflect the dramatic changes to today’s workforce.

Simple Questions to Reduce Employer Wage Liability

There has been a widely reported increase in wage and hour litigation in Washington State and employers have cried foul at the cost of this litigation.[1] However, Washington employers should not be overwhelmed with the complexity of wage and hour laws as Washington has played a historic role in protecting hourly workers.[2]

When Washington employers take on the responsibility of an employee, they have an affirmative duty to understand the changing wage and hour laws and how they affect their policies and rights of their employees. Nevertheless, employers could greatly reduce their liability for wage litigation by regularly asking themselves these five simple questions:

  1. Are we paying employees the current minimum wage?
  2. Are we paying employees all of straight time earnings for hours worked under 40 hours in a fixed seven-day workweek?
  3. Are we paying employees one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a fixed seven-day workweek?
  4. Are we giving employees a 10-minute break or intermittent breaks at the end of the third hour of work and are we giving employees a 30-minute unpaid meal period for working more than 5 hours? (Alternatively, are you compensating employees who work during these periods?)
  5. Are we paying employees at least once a month?

These simple questions do not attempt to capture the detail of exemptions, administrative codes, statutes, and case law. Nonetheless, as an attorney who regularly represents employees against employers for wage claims, these simple questions asked regularly would dramatically reduce employee-employer wage litigation.

[1] Washington-based Federal Justice Center reported 8,126 federal wage-and-hour lawsuits were filed between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, See also More Workers Are Claiming Wage Theft, New York Times, Greenhouse, Steven published August 31, 2014 available here.

[2] See Parrish v. West Coast Hotel Co., 185 Wash. 581, 55 P.2d 1083 (1936), Washington Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of a Washington minimum wage law for women and children. See Also Court in Larsen v. Rice, 100 Wash. 642, 171 P. 1037 (1918); Spokane Hotel Co. v. Younger, 113 Wash. 359, 194 P. 595 (1920). Parrish was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379, 57 S. Ct. 578 (1937), overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525, 43 S. Ct. 394 (1923), which struck down a similar District of Columbia law on substantive due process grounds.

Labor Report says Employers Steal More Than Bank Robbers

The Economic Policy Center (“EPI”) reports this week that more employers fail to provide full wages to employees.  When comparing 2008 U.S. Department of Labor statistics report of back wages to U.S. Census Bureau Data on bank robbery statistics, EPI reports wage theft amounts to triple the amounts stolen in bank robberies. The report is more anecdotal than statistically significant, however the broader report draws attention to the seriousness of wage theft. Read the entire report here.

New House Bill Aimed at Protecting Workers Against Wage Theft

Yesterday, advocates for labor groups testified before the Washington State Legislature offering a proposal to triple the amount of damages for employers violating wage and hour laws.

Dubbed “Wage Theft” by advocates, the denial of rest breaks, the withholding of pay, and unlawful deductions have increased legal attention for low-income workers.

Currently, the amount of damages a worker is owed may be double under federal law for the amount of the violation.  However, the new State bill HB2332 would increase damages to “plus twice” the amount of “wages unlawfully rebated…” under State law.

These bills and others throughout the United States mark a growing effort by labor groups to protect workers rights and fair wages.