Misapplied exemption resulted in pay violations; nearly $464,000 assessed in penalties
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., has agreed to pay $4,828,442 in back wages and damages to more than 4,500 employees nationwide following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division that found violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime provisions. Additionally, Wal-Mart will pay $463,815 in civil money penalties.
The violations affected current and former vision center managers and asset protection coordinators at Wal-Mart Discount Stores, Wal-Mart Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets and Sam's Club warehouses. Wal-Mart failed to compensate these employees with overtime pay, considering them to be exempt from the FLSA's overtime requirements. The Labor Department's investigation found that the employees are nonexempt and consequently due overtime pay for any hours worked beyond 40 in a week.
"Misclassification of employees as exempt from FLSA coverage is a costly problem with adverse consequences for employees and corporations," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Let this be a signal to other companies that when violations are found, the Labor Department will take appropriate action to ensure that workers receive the wages they have earned."
Under the terms of the settlement, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay all back wages the department determined are owed for the violations plus an equal amount in liquidated damages to the employees. The FLSA provides that employers who violate the law are, as a general rule, liable to employees for back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages. The civil money penalties assessed stem from the repeat nature of the violations. Wal-Mart, which operates more than 3,900 establishments in the United States, corrected its classification practices for these workers in 2007, and negotiation over the back pay issues has been ongoing since that time. A third-party administrator will disburse the payments to the affected employees.
"Our department has been working with Wal-Mart for a long time to reach this agreement," said Nancy J. Leppink, deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. "I am very pleased that staff in our Southwest region persevered, ensured these employees will be paid the back wages they are owed and brought this case to conclusion. Thanks to this resolution, thousands of employees will see money put back into their pockets that should have been there all along. The damages and penalties assessed in this case should put other employers on notice that they cannot avoid their obligations to their employees by inappropriately classifying their workers as exempt."
The FLSA provides an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay requirements for individuals employed in bona fide executive, administrative, professional and outside sales positions, as well as certain computer employees. To qualify for exemption, employees generally must meet certain tests regarding their job duties and be paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 per week. Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for an exemption to apply, an employee's specific job duties and salary must meet all the requirements of the department's regulations.
The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also are required to maintain accurate time and payroll records.