Takeaway: Sketchy communication and faulty record keeping sent these wage claims to trial. That the employees in this case were undocumented did not save the employer from facing trial.
A federal district court case illustrates the pitfalls of an employer’s failures to explicitly document policies regarding wages and hours of work, to ensure employees use established reporting systems, and to properly report employees’ regular and overtime hours and pay.
Three live-in personal care assistants (PCAs) formerly employed by CareOne Health Services LLC sued their employer and its sole owner, claiming they had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act by failing to properly compensate them for overtime hours worked, including time when their sleep allegedly was interrupted by clients’ needs. The employer filed several state law counterclaims arising from the PCAs’ alleged failure to report sleep interruptions.
The court granted in part and denied in part the employer’s motion for summary judgment. It also denied the employees’ request to dismiss the counterclaims but notified the parties that it would consider exercising discretion to enter summary judgment in the employees’ favor.
The employer is licensed by the State of Connecticut to provide home health care, homemaker and companion services. The relevant state regulation requires an employer of live-in PCAs to employ them for no more than 13 hours per day, allowing for at least eight—five uninterrupted—hours sleep and three hours of meal breaks per day.
The employer never executed a formal employment agreement with the PCAs, nor did it enter into a written agreement with them to exclude sleep time from compensable hours.
The PCAs attested that their clients had sleeping problems or other issues such that they were unable to have at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly. They said they had told the employer about the interruptions, but the employer had done nothing. The employer said the employees did not report the sleep interruptions either orally or via either of the employer’s two documentation systems.
The three PCAs were paid $1,960 for two weeks of work, which, they said, was a flat daily rate of $140. The employer contended the PCAs’ wages—accounting for a credit in the amount of food and housing provided by the client—totaled $1,960 every two weeks, but not because they earned a flat daily rate.
The PCAs never received a pay stub or an itemized breakdown of regular and overtime wages or food and housing deductions. The employer said this was because they were undocumented immigrants and the company’s payroll vendor refused to process anybody without a valid Social Security number. The employer did keep records of the PCAs’ weekly wages but had never given them either those records or calculations of the food and housing credit.
A federal court must grant summary judgment if the moving party shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A court must construe facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant.
The FLSA sets a minimum hourly wage, a maximum of 40 hours a week paid at the employee’s regular rate and one-and-one-half times the regular rate for hours above 40. An employee who sues for unpaid wages has the burden of proving they performed work for which they were not properly compensated.
The court found genuine disputes of material fact as to two issues—whether the PCAs were properly compensated for their undisputed overtime hours and were entitled to compensation for disputed overtime hours.
The PCAs contended they worked at least 91 hours per week and should have been paid their regular rate for the first 40 hours, and one-and-a-half times their regular rate for the remaining 51 hours. The defendant countered that the PCAs were not paid a flat fee but rather biweekly wages that accurately accounted for overtime and credit for food and lodging. Particularly in light of the absence of itemized pay stubs and records concerning calculation of the food and housing credit, genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether the employer properly calculated the PCAs’ regular rate of pay and the overtime they were due for hours it is undisputed they worked.
In addition, the parties disagreed about whether the PCAs had sleep interruptions and whether the employer knew about them. From their conflicting testimony of the facts alone, the court said it was clear there were genuine disputes at least as to these two matters. A reasonable jury could infer the employer knew the PCAs were working uncompensated overtime hours, despite failure to record the hours. Genuine issues of material fact also existed as to whether the parties had agreed to exclude sleep time from the PCAs’ pay.
The employer counterclaimed that each PCA committed intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and negligence by failing to properly report working hours and sleep interruptions. These claims would also require a jury to resolve the conflicting evidence.
Modise v. CareOne Health Services LLC, D. Conn., No. 3:20-CV-765, (Nov. 1, 2022).
Margaret M. Clark, J.D, SHRM-SCP, is a freelance writer in Arlington, Va.