Pure Energy sought an opinion from its labor and employment counsel whether its practice of paying its employees a day rate for all hours worked violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. Pure Energy, however, ignored the opinion of its attorney of the steps it needed to take for its date rate to pass muster under the FLSA. In Mumby v. Pure Energy Servs. (USA), Inc. (2/22/2011), the 10th Circuit concluded that the employer’s ignoring of its attorney’s advice constituted a willful violation of the FLSA:
Although consultation with an attorney may help prove that an employer lacked willfulness, such a consultation is, by itself, insufficient to require a finding in favor of the employer….
In fact, Pure Energy did not track its field employees' hours to ensure compliance with the FLSA or with the guidance provided… [A]ny overtime Pure Energy did pay was calculated using its erroneous “day rate” without regard for any weekly hours worked in excess of forty.
Pure Energy made no real changes to its compensation policy…. Indeed, without tracking the number of hours worked by each field employee, it was virtually impossible for Pure Energy to determine whether it was complying with [the] advice, let alone the requirements imposed under the FLSA.
Because the company sought, and then ignored, the advice of an attorney, the court concluded its violation was willful. The willful violation subjected the company to the FLSA’s three-year statute of limitations, as opposed to the non-willful two years, costing it an extra year of damages.
The moral of the story: If you hire an attorney, have the good sense to follow the advice you paid for.
[Hat tip: Overtime Law Blog]