Since the 1960s, call centers have streamlined customer service in numerous industries. In recent years, many large corporations have turned to call centers to handle ordering, customer service, product support and just about anything that can be done over the phone.
But the extreme gains in productivity and profit that call centers offer to companies big and small haven’t trickled down. There’s a whole class of people who haven’t been allowed to share in the benefits promised by outsourcing customer service: the very workers who make it possible.
Call Center Employees: Common Wage & Hour FLSA Violations
Call center employees are among the most likely to be cheated out of their hard-earned compensation by wage theft.
If a wave of recent FLSA violation lawsuits are any indication, call center workers are routinely robbed by their employers. But those lawsuits also indicate a possibility, and hope. Settlement after settlement has demonstrated that when call center employees become the victims of wage theft, civil lawsuits can be the solution.
You can regain what you’ve lost. The attorneys at WageAdvocates.com want to help.
What Is A Call Center?
According to the US Department of Labor, “a call center is a central customer service operation where agents (often called customer care specialists or customer service representatives) handle telephone calls for their company or on behalf of a client.”
Despite the public’s generally unfavorable opinion of telemarketers, tech support specialists, hotel booking agents and other call center employees, these jobs are anything but easy. Not only are telemarketers unfairly maligned in modern society, many call center employees are forced to work in cramped quarters, and expected to maintain a beaming smile in the face of angry, and sometimes abusive, callers. Employers, for their part, ceaselessly monitor their workers’ interactions in the hope of optimizing the process further.
But through all this, one thing remains true: you deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. And under Federal Law, you’re guaranteed that. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was designed to protect low-wage workers like you. If your company is covered by the Act, and you’re an eligible employee, the FLSA entitles you to at least $7.25 per hour and overtime wages for any hours worked over 40 in a week.
So how do you know if you’re eligible?
Is My Call Center Covered By The FLSA?
If your employer has two or more employees and makes $500,000 or more in sales or applicable business, the company is considered an “enterprise” and covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
While many “customer management” jobs have been sent overseas, the US is still home to thousands of domestic call centers. Many of these facilities are owned and operated by major banks, insurance companies, and health insurers:
- American Express
- Bank of America
- Blue Cross Blue Shield
- Fidelity Investments
- JPMorgan Chase
- UnitedHealth Group
- Wells Fargo
While other companies offer a way for large businesses to “outsource” their customer service calls:
- Conduit Global
- Expert Global Solutions (EGS)
- GC Services
- Sabre Holdings Corp.
- Sykes Enterprises
Some employees working for smaller companies may still be eligible for the FLSA’s wage and hour protections.
If your company makes less than $500,000 annually, but you individually engage in interstate commerce, you’re probably covered. Making calls to other states, as well as receiving calls from other states, counts as “interstate commerce” under the FLSA. So does using the Internet or United States Mail, as well as ordering products from companies based out-of-state.
Is My Job Eligible For Minimum Wage & Overtime Pay Under The FLSA?
Most call center workers will be entitled to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s guarantees: a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and overtime pay at one-and-a-half a worker’s “regular rate” for any hours worked over 40 in a given workweek. For a look at jobs that may be exempt from the FLSA’s protections, click here.
Even employees who make a salary may be protected by the FLSA and entitled to overtime wages. To learn more about salaried workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, follow this link.
Common Wage Violations
By far the most common type of wage theft affecting call center workers is when employers fail to pay their employees for all hours worked. But the FLSA requires that all nonexempt employees be compensated fully for their hours of labor.
In general, an employee’s hours worked begin from the “first principal activity of the workday” and end with the “last principal activity of the workday”. In a call center, the first principal activity may be booting up a computer at the start of the day.
Turning on your computer, which is essential to the performance of your job, is working and you should be compensated for that time. Reading your emails, initializing software and finishing paperwork up at the end of your shift: this is all work, and under the FLSA you are entitled to wages for that time.
For more information on common wage violations, click here.
Thousands Of Workers Have Recovered Unpaid Wages Through Civil Action
But in lawsuit after lawsuit, call centers have been held accountable for forcing their employees to perform essential job duties off the clock.
In 2009, Sprint, a company with more than $35 billion in annual revenue, settled a series of FLSA wage and hour violation lawsuits for nearly $9 million. In three class actions, customer service representatives claimed Sprint had failed to pay them for essential work performed before and after shifts, as well as during meal breaks. Even taking notes on customer calls didn’t count as hours worked, according to plaintiffs.
In 2011, Farmers Insurance agreed to pay almost 3,500 call center employees back wages totaling $1.5 million. The workers had alleged that Farmers routinely failed to count their necessary “first principal activities,” like booting up computer workstations and logging onto the company’s phone system, as hours worked. On average, the employees said they lost out on 30 minutes of compensable time every day.
After a lengthy investigation, the Department of Labor found that Farmers had engaged in “significant and systemic violations” of the FLSA. You can read more about the DOL’s case against Farmers here.
With Wage Theft Rampant, Call Center Workers Turn To FLSA Lawsuits
Those are only two examples of a problem that now appears intrinsic to the call center industry: employers don’t think their workers have the right to overtime wages.
But you do.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, most call center employees are guaranteed three simple things: a wage of at least $7.25 per hour, overtime wages for hard work and, perhaps most importantly, that all of their work hours will be compensated.
As we’ve seen, those rights aren’t always respected.
Contact Our Attorneys
If you’re not being paid to turn on your computer, read company notices, look at your email or log into your company’s network, you may be the victim of wage theft.
At WageAdvocates.com, we want to fight for the money that’s been stolen from you. Our experienced FLSA lawyers are more than prepared to take on withholding employers, no matter how large the company.
To learn more about your rights and legal options, call us for a free consultation.
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