As cases continue to take shape against Philadelphia-headquartered Urban Outfitters and Panera Bread, these household names that are known to millions have now become known for reasons they’d very much like to avoid. In an age where public perceptions can shift with a single public Facebook post, the impacts and public backlash on companies caught in labor and wage disputes can be severe.
The Panera and Urban Outfitters cases both center around the same misdeed: the use of job titles to attempt to try to classify employees as managers when the reality of their jobs included little to no actual management activity. Oftentimes, a retail employee will be escalated to a “management-level” role only to find out that they are still responsible for the same core duties such as folding, cleaning, or unpacking merchandise, with the addition of a minor store task reserved for “management.” These employees will still hold no hire/fire responsibility, disciplinary authority, or any other task generally associated with the independent thought necessary for a traditionally management-level role.
However, because of the management designation, many will be reclassified as being exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act protection. This means that they will not draw overtime for any hours worked past the standard 40-hour work week. In many cases, these employees will be expected to spend 45-60 hours a week at these jobs and will not see an additional dime in their paychecks.
The Panera and Urban Outfitters cases are far from the only FLSA lawsuits making their way through the courts, and will most certainly not be the last. 2016 saw a record-setting $240 million payout from FedEx over unpaid overtime due to its employees. 2017 was no different. Names like MetLife insurance, T.G.I. Fridays, T-Mobile, Walgreens, Victoria’s Secret, and GE joined Urban and Panera in being taken to court by employees for unpaid overtime. Other defendants included a local government and, quite ironically, an HR management company.
Employees should always know their rights and be aware that just because their employer classifies them as a management-level resource, it does not mean that they automatically become exempt from overtime protection. In many cases, the day to day tasks of a job are just as important as that job’s title. And, they can make all the difference in determining whether you were promoted because of your outstanding performance – or simply because your company wants you to work more but just doesn’t want to pay you for it.