Recent Settlements Should Alert Employers

By James Denis

Sep. 3, 2009

In Washington, a state judge has given final approval to a settlement between Wal-Mart and a class of more than 88,000 workers for working off the clock and during meal and rest breaks. Wal-Mart will pay up to $35 million to the class. In response to the litigation, Wal-Mart has implemented a clockout/lockout program which locks associates out of electronic devices, including computer terminals, if they are not clocked in for work on Wal-Mart’s time clock. This Washington case is one of 63 wage and hour suits across the country that Wal-Mart is in the process of settling. (Barnett v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Wash. Super. Ct., No. 01-2-24553-8, 7/20/09)

In a second case, a federal district court in Maryland approved a $112,871 settlement and consent decree of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit claiming that Medical Health Group violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing an employee, Barbara Metzger, who was undergoing breast cancer treatment one week before she was to return to work from an approved medical leave. Although Metzger told Medical Health that she planned to work full time, Medical Health presented her with a termination letter stating that she was too sick to return to work. Under a three-year consent decree, Medical Health is to provide equal employment opportunity training for its managers and human resources personnel and to post workplace notices in two locations informing employees of the settlement and stating its commitment to ADA compliance. (EEOC v. Med. Health Group Inc., D. Md., No. 09-cv-803, consent decree entered 7/20/09)

Impact: These two settlements provide examples of preventive measures that an employer should consider taking to avoid litigation. In addition to paying employees for all hours worked and making rest and meal breaks available where required by law, electronic tracking programs may provide for increased accuracy of time recording. Employers should also ensure that their employee handbooks and policies are updated regularly to comply with the law, and that employees, management and human resources personnel are aware of employee rights and responsibilities.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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