Wage and hour claims dealing with overtime requirements are among the most contentious in employment law litigation. The United States Supreme Court recently issued a decision exempting one narrow class of employees (“service advisors” at automobile dealerships) from coverage. While the specific effect of the ruling is limited, the reasoning behind it may signal a shift in the way the Supreme Court interprets the exemptions from overtime requirements in federal employment law.
The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act governs wage and hour issues for most employees in the United States. Generally speaking, unless an employee is an “exempt employee” she must receive minimum wage for all hours worked, and overtime pay at the rate of one and a half times her normal pay rate (known as “time and a half”) when she works more than forty hours in a week. Broad categories of employees are exempt, however. The major categories of exemptions are professional, executive and administrative employees. Many other smaller or sub-categories of employees are also exempt.
New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law provides similar coverage for New Jersey employees, who receive protection under both state and federal law. Both laws also prohibit retaliation against employees who file complaints about violations (although there are technical requirements about what constitutes a “complaint”), and both require the employer to pay the employee’s attorneys fees if she prevails in a lawsuit. The main difference is that the Fair Labor Standards Act provides for double damages if the violation is “willful” – this means that if the employer willfully underpaid the employee by $1000, it must pay her $2000 in damages plus reimbursing her for her attorneys fees. The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, on the other hand, does not provide for double damages.