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Off the Clock: Walmart Settlement Brings Up Workers' Rights

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By Minara El-Rahman on December 07, 2009 9:00 AM

'Tis the season for hiring a new round of seasonal hourly workers. However, it is also a season where employers could potentially be violating their workers' rights.

Walmart's $40 million class action settlement over meal and rest breaks and work "off the clock" (discussed in FindLaw's Decided) brings up some important issues for all hard working Americans: workers' rights.

Do you know exactly what your rights are as an hourly wage worker?

Some common violations of employers are:

  • Not paying the correct minimum wage.
  • Paying the lower "training wage" or "youth minimum wage" to workers who should be paid more.
  • Not paying overtime.
  • Making employees work "off-the-clock," and not paying them for it.
  • Deducting too much for tips.
  • Deducting for wages paid in goods, such as meals or food.

The Walmart lawsuit alleges that hourly workers are forced to work "off the clock" and to work with shortened breaks (or no breaks at all)

This brings up legal situations where you must be paid even if you are not working.

As with many legal protections, these do not always apply to everyone, and details within each state differ. However, some common situations are:

On-Call Time: If you are required to stay on your employer's premises while waiting for a work assignment, your employer must often pay you for that time, even if you don't spend it actually performing job tasks.

Sleep Time: You are often entitled to be paid for any time that you are allowed to sleep during a shift.

Travel Time: Although you are not generally entitled to wages for the time you spend commuting to and from your job each day, you are often entitled to be paid for travel time if that time is part of the job.

Education and Training: Generally, if your employer requires you to attend a lecture, meeting, or training session, it must pay you for that time, including the time you spend traveling to an off-site event.

Meal and Rest Breaks: This is where Walmart got into trouble. Many states have laws that require employers to provide meal and rest breaks.

These laws specify the minimum time that must be allowed and whether that time must be paid. In the states that do not require that break time be paid, employees must be free of all job responsibilities during meal and rest breaks.

If an employee must perform any job duties during a regularly scheduled break (such as covering phones or staffing a reception area), that time must be paid.

If you have any questions of workers' rights, please visit our Related Resources links.

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