The issue of claims for alleged working time is on a disturbing trend upwards. There seems to be no end to the frequency and variety of these claims. Although the latest case is not in the context of a judicial proceeding, but rather an administrative investigation, the result, and the issues, remain the same. The US Department of Labor and Norwegian Cruise Line have just entered into a settlement where the Company will pay $526,602 in allegedly owed wages more than two-thousand employees working for the Pride of America cruise ship, based in Hawaii.
The investigation showed that the Company paid straight time for certain work activities, i.e. mandatory weekly emergency drills, without regard for whether these hours brought the employees beyond forty for that week, thereby triggering an overtime obligation. This included all of the time spent conducting and participating in the emergency drills conducted every Saturday. Further, as the employer had taken meal and lodging credits against the minimum wage, there were also minimum wage violations. Other working time included hours spent cleaning cabins between cruises and for chunks of time spent (allegedly) in performing vital preliminary duties, before employees commenced their assigned shifts.
The US DOL District Director (the top DOL official in Honolulu) stated that “employees in many jobs on U.S.-flagged vessels are entitled to the federal minimum wage and overtime protections under U.S. law.” He continued by complimenting the employer for coming “ into compliance once the issues were identified.” This means that the Company evidenced that it was ready to now fully comply with wage-hour laws, thus garnering some “good faith” in the settlement discussions with the DOL.
I just posted on another working tine case this week and normally would have looked for another topic. The veritable explosion of these working time cases, however, has given me much concern and I feel I must trumpet this caution to the business community. Where an employer compels (in any way, shape or form) employees to perform tasks and treats that time as either wholly uncompensated time or simply “straight time,” liability is sure to be the result.