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OfficeMax Workers Win $3 Million Unpaid Wages Victory

Office supply company OfficeMax settled a major wage and hour violation lawsuit for $3.53 million on Monday, November 23, 2015. A significant victory for working people across the nation, the money goes to reimburse around 330 assistant managers who say they were deprived of overtime pay.

Assistant Managers Win Major FLSA Settlement

The lawsuit was first filed on September 21, 2012 and further demonstrates that while justice may take some time, it is certainly possible. In the “collective action” (not quite a class action), several assistant managers at OfficeMax accused the office supplier of misclassifying employees across the nation as exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Acts’ overtime requirements.

You can read the original court documents (called a “complaint”) filed by OfficeMax assistant manager Jeffrey Heitzenrater below:

Heitzenratzer v. OfficeMax

In a move common for very large corporations, OfficeMax hasn’t admitted liability. The company continues to deny the managers’ allegations, agreeing to the settlement “in order to avoid further expenses and disruptions to its business,” Law360 reports. Nonetheless, the company has settled, allowing the assistant managers to collect the backwages they feel were unlawfully withheld.

How Can You Know That You’re Misclassified?

The assistant managers say they were “misclassified,” highlighting one of the fundamental tenets of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law extending the right to minimum wage and overtime pay to the majority of American workers.

Every US worker can be classified in one of two categories: “exempt” from the FLSA and “non-exempt” from the FLSA. While non-exempt workers are entitled to overtime wages at a higher rate than their normal wage, exempt workers are not.

The only way to really know whether or not you’re misclassified as exempt is by going back to the FLSA, checking the law’s definition of exempt employees and analyzing your own job duties to see if you fit the bill. For a simple guide to the process, click here.

Were The OfficeMax Workers Entitled To Overtime?

To find a concrete example, take a look at how the OfficeMax assistant managers argued that they were misclassified as exempt:

In the OfficeMax lawsuit, Heitzenrater effectively claimed that he was classified as an “executive,” a type of worker that isn’t entitled to overtime, but that most of his time was actually spent performing “non-exempt” duties.

Here are a few of those “non-exempt” duties:

  • stocking shelves
  • working the cash register
  • unloading trucks
  • selling merchandise
  • counting inventory
  • cleaning the store

For contrast, here’s the FLSA’s definition of an executive:

  1. paid on a salary basis
  2. paid at least $455 per week
  3. “regularly direct the work of at least two or more other full-time employees”
  4. has “the authority to hire or fire other employees, or the employee’s suggestions and recommendations as to the hiring, firing, advancement, promotion or any other change of status of other employees must be given particular weight.”

According to Heitzenrater, that definition didn’t fit his job at all. Yes, he was paid a salary, but he never had any authority to hire, fire or discipline other employees. Plus, his job duties were basically the same as those of non-exempt hourly workers at OfficeMax. Of those duties, most were “manual in nature,” tasks that didn’t require independent judgment and the other hallmarks of an exempt employee.

Does My Job Title Matter?

No, and we can see this fact play out in the OfficeMax lawsuit.

In his original complaint, Heitzenrater said he was filing on behalf of everyone now or formerly employed by OfficeMax “as assistant managers and other similarly situated current and former employees holding comparable positions but different titles.” Obviously, your job title doesn’t matter in determining whether or not you’re exempt from the FLSA’s overtime protections.

Some “managers” are exempt. Some “managers” aren’t. Your job title doesn’t matter to the FLSA.

What Is A Collective Action?

Collective action is a specific legal procedure instituted by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

It’s kind of like a class action, in that only one employee is needed to file the initial lawsuit. But whereas class actions presume that other people in similar situations are part of the lawsuit unless they “opt out,” collective actions require “similarly situated” employees to actively “opt in” to the lawsuit. This “opt-in” requirement further protects other workers’ rights to file their own individual lawsuits, rather than join the collective action.

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