Article in Law / Business / Employee Rights & Benefits
In the spring of this year the Supreme Court ruled that verbal complaints concerning violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are covered under the protection from retaliation tenets of the Act first passed in 1938. Employers are now more broadly accountable for compliance with the FLSA.

Verbal Complaints are protected under the Provisions of the FLSA

In a Supreme Court decision earlier this year, the High Court ruled in the Kasten versus Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation case that an employee's verbal complaints concerning alleged wage and hour violations can be adequate to trigger the anti-retaliation tenets of the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA (Santucci & Dick, 2011). The plaintiff, one Kevin Kasten, formerly employed by Saint-Gobain, had alleged that he had been terminated from his position with the company in retaliation for his having complained to his supervisors and human-resources department staffers about the position of the time clocks in the company.

Mr. Kasten had complained about the Placement of the Clocks in the Company

Mr. Kasten had complained that the clocks were inconveniently located which made it impossible for employees to record the time they spent “donning and doffing” protective equipment (Santucci & Dick, 2011). The High Court, in short, had to decide whether or not the phrase “filed any complaint” in the statutory language of the FLSA included verbal and written complaints.

The District and Seventh Circuit Courts had ruled against Mr. Kasten, the Plaintiff

The District Court ruled in the defendant's favor and determined that the FLSA anti-retaliation provisions did not cover verbal complaints which was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court. The Supreme Court over-ruled both of the lower courts' rulings, however, and maintained that verbal complaints are indeed covered under the anti-retaliation tenets of the FLSA (Santucci & Dick, 2011).

The Supreme Court’s Over-ruling of the Lower Courts Hinged on Several Factors

The Supreme Court's rationale for over-ruling the lower courts and in the plaintiff's favor hinged upon several considerations (Santucci & Dick, 2011):

1. Limiting the provisions of the anti-retaliation rules to written complaints only would weaken the FLSA's basic intentions.

2. The purpose of the Act is to assure a safe and healthy work environment and to assure that workers’ wages and hours are properly recorded and that they are paid accurately as they should. Enforcement of the Act, ruled the High Court, should not have to rest on federal monitoring on an ongoing basis but rather on the nature of the complaints received from the employees seeking to vindicate that their rights have been violated by their employers.

3. The anti-retaliation provision, both written and oral, undergirds the enforcement construct by preventing fear of economic retaliation from forcing employees to quietly submit to substandard conditions.

4. The Supreme Court set forth a test for determining the legitimacy of an FLSA-based complaint which is if a reasonable or objective person would have “fair notice” that an employee was asserting statutory rights then that worker would be protected under the provisions of the FLSA.

5. This High Court decision has expanded the reach of employer liability relative to the FLSA and its enforcement.

6. Given this expanded scope of employer liability, organizations of all types should ensure that they are compliant in all areas of hours, wages, overtime, and working-condition regulations and policies.

7. Employers should mitigate the risk of litigation by conducting FLSA training and workshops in their entities on a regular basis, with updates clearly communicated throughout the entity.

8. Moreover, when employees are first hired, they should be well-grounded in all aspects of FLSA policies and practices and deeply steeped in other aspects of human-resources policies and practices to enhance their value to themselves, their organizations, and their communities.

Source: Santucci, Adam & Dick, Tony D., Esq., (2011). Supreme Court Says Verbal Complaints of Alleged FSLA Violations are Protected. Pennsylvania Labor & Employment Blog, May 18, 2011. McNees, Wallace, & Nurick LLC; Harrisburg, PA and other offices around Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Washington, DC. Retrieved from: to Shut Down Permanently on December 31, 2017

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