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What is a willful violation of the federal overtime laws?

Working in the oil and gas industry can be rewarding and lucrative. However, employers in the oil and gas industry often take liberties with how their employees are paid and cut corners regarding overtime pay. 

Willful violation Statute of Limitations

Under the FLSA, nonexempt workers who work longer than forty hours in a given workweek are entitled to their overtime pay at a rate of not less than one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay. 29 U.S.C. § 207. Generally speaking, the statute of limitations for an action for unpaid overtime wages under the FLSA has a two-year timeline for recovery; however, if the judge or jury finds that the employer willfully violated the FLSA, meaning that the employee can show that the employer knew of the FLSA and failed to abide by it or acted with reckless disregard for the act, then the statute of limitations is extended to three years  Singer v. City of Waco, Tex., 324 F.3d 813, 821 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting McLaughlin v. Richland Shoe Co., 486 U.S. 128, 133 (1988)). More specifically, an employer acts willfully when they know their pay structures violate the FLSA or ignore complaints brought to their attention by their employees. See, e.g., Ikossi-Anastasiou v. Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ., 579 F.3d 546, 553 & n.24 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing cases). 

Willful violation definition

Whether conduct is willful or not is fact-specific, meaning that it is left to the fact-finder to decide. However, courts give deference to the meaning of willfulness where the employee can show, for example, that the employer had actual notice or knowledge of the requirements of the FLSA, had an agreement to pay unpaid overtime wages, or gave assurances for future compliance with the FLSA. If the Court declines to find a willful violation, the measure of damages is left to a “good faith” argument. If the employer shows that the act or omission giving rise to such action was in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her act or omission was not a violation of the FLSA, the Court will not award liquidated damages. 29 U.S.C. §260. An employer who acts without a reasonable basis for believing that it was complying with the FLSA is merely negligent. McLaughlin, 486 U.S. at 134-35. 

Courts do take into consideration the Defendants willingness or unwillingness to make an effort to determine if they are in fact in violation of the FLSA. However, this step is often missed by employers, giving the employee a right to seek their unpaid over wages. For example, in Brennan, the Defendant testified that “he knew of the existence of the FLSA and had heard talk about recent amendments to the act that had extended the coverage to those employees in the  same positions of his [current and former] employees.” Brennan v. Heard, 491 F. 2d 1 (5th Cir. 1974). The Court found that based on the Defendant’s unwillingness to make further inquiries into their understanding of the act is the exact ignorance that found the Defendants willfully violating the FLSA. Id.

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This issue of whether or not a defendant has willfully violated the FLSA can make a significant difference in an overtime case, extending the timeline for recovery to three years instead of two. If you or a family member or friend believe that your employer has denied you overtime payments, you may have a claim for unpaid overtime compensation. Consider speaking with an experienced overtime attorney. Josh Borsellino is an overtime attorney licensed in Texas that represents workers who have been paid unfairly. Josh fights for the rights of workers that have been denied overtime pay. Josh accepts overtime cases on a contingency basis, meaning that he only gets paid if money is recovered from the company being sued. Josh provides free consultations for anyone with questions about overtime pay. He may be reached at 817.908.9861 or 432.242.7118.