When employers are compelling employees or “suggesting” to employees that they engage in work-related activities before or after they go on and off the clock, trouble is brewing. In the latest of these working time class actions, a group of employees working for Lululemon Athletica Inc. have sued the company under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), claiming pay for time worked beyond their normal shifts. The “work time” at issue is the watching of inspirational DVDs and the taking of exercise classes. The case is entitled Brown v. Lululemon Athletica Inc. and was filed in the District Court for Northern District of Illinois.
The plaintiffs claim that the company had a system-wide policy on this issue, so the papers filed in court seek a class that may extend to at least three states. These employees, dubbed “educators,” have alleged that the company, whose primary line of business is yoga-inspired athletic gear/clothing has compelled them to work a number of extra hours each week, which would take all of them into overtime situations and generating considerable liability.
The employees claim that they were required to view inspirational DVDs in their homes and attend mandatory staff meeting on a monthly basis, which took two hours. They seek compensation for this alleged work time as well.
The employees have filed an amended complaint, where they specify that the possible class encompasses 1,400 current/former Lululemon employees who worked at least two overtime hours per week. In frightening fashion, the complaint hypothesizes that damages may top five million dollars.
If the employer actually compelled these employees to engage in these activities and the activities can be demonstrated to have some integral connection to their work, there may be liability. The flip side also applies—if the employees’ positions and their employment would be in jeopardy if they did not partake in these activities, or they reasonably feared their jobs would be in jeopardy, liability might also lie.
The underlying “moral” is for employers to self-audit their compensation practices, particularly as applied to these sideline-type activities, which are often hidden in the compensation radar.