Many employers like to encourage a strong work ethic among their employees. If the attitude is “You work until the job is done”, then employees might be less inclined to worry about overtime pay.
That strategy seemed to work for a while for Ventura County in keeping its social workers working overtime without compensation. That is, until a 9th Circuit Court ruling found that the social workers were not eligible for overtime exemption under the current labor law. After the court came to this conclusion, the social workers filed an overtime class action lawsuit against Ventura County seeking three years of back wages.
According to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an employee must fit into one of three categories in order to be considered eligible for overtime compensation. When considering these categories, the FLSA accounts for more than just the employee’s job title. It also considers the employee’s main responsibilities. To fit into the first category, administrative, the employee must provide administrative assistance directly to an executive. In order to qualify for the second category, executive, an employee’s main responsibilities must consist of managing other employees. For the third category, professional, an employee’s job must require a particular set of skills or training.
The social workers of Ventura County, California were put into the third category. However, the overtime class action lawsuit alleges that the social workers did not have to follow an advanced, specialized course of study in order to get their jobs so they do not fulfill the qualifications for the exemption.
The 9th Circuit Court’s ruling regarding overtime compensation was reached in September 2011. Ventura County reportedly dragged its feet in responding, but the Board of Supervisors did finally vote to change 25 job classifications in order to comply with the decision.
Lydia Salinas, one of the social workers in the case, alleges that she regularly worked 10 to 15 hours of overtime each week dating back as far as 2010. She was involved in the investigation of alleged child abuse cases and she says that, as demand for prompt investigations increased, so did her workload. She says that she and the other social workers never considered overtime compensation because they thought their jobs were exempt from overtime.
The overtime lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, California, consists of 103 class members, although as many as 174 social workers have been noted to have been affected by the misclassification. Thanks to a new ruling by the judge in the case, that number might increase dramatically. The judge decided that the interpretation of the class could apply to more employees, including those recently retired. That would boost the number of potential class members to about 200. As one might expect, this could mean millions of dollars in back wages that Ventura County may have to pay.
Another factor which will have an effect on the possible amount of back wages owed is a debate as to when the overtime liability should originate. The attorneys for Ventura County state that liability should begin with the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling. Others have pointed out however, that other jurisdictions in California had reclassified workers and begun providing overtime long before the court’s decision.