The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law guaranteeing most employees minimum wages and overtime pay. Many states have similar laws, but with greater employee protections. Unless exempt, an employee must generally be paid at least $7.25 per hour worked (higher under many states’ laws), and time-and-a-half of (1.5x) the employee’s regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. These familiar and seemingly simple rules quickly become complicated when one considers issues such as the workers’ “independent contractor” or exempt status, or whether the employee has been paid for all hours worked, at the correct overtime rate.
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On many federally or state-funded projects, an employer must pay their employees the “prevailing wage” (including benefits) for their hours of work. Prevailing wage laws are intended to prevent government funds from being used to undercut local area wage standards. The prevailing wage rate depends on the type of job being performed (e.g., electrician, janitor, paralegal), the state and county where the work is performed, and whether the project is funded by federal, state or local dollars.
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The Federal False Claims Act (FCA) is the federal law which allows a private plaintiff (called a “Relator”) who discovers that the United States was defrauded by a government contractor, to bring a “qui tam” lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the government to recover improperly paid funds and penalize the contractor for its fraud and misrepresentations. Many states and localities also have their own false claims acts. The federal FCA has been frequently used to bring claims against health care providers who defraud Medicare or Medicaid, and against defense contractors who defraud the Department of Defense. The FCA has even been used to recover funds from contractor-employers who defraud the government by falsely certifying that they pay prevailing Davis-Bacon wages and benefits to their construction workers when they do not.
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Various laws at the federal and state level make it illegal for an employer to terminate or take other adverse action against an employee who makes a complaint about illegal or unsafe working conditions, refuses to work under such conditions, or engages in some other protected whistleblower activity. The purpose of these laws is to ensure that employees can report their concerns about safety and other illegal activity to their employer or the government without the fear of possible retaliation by their employers. If an employee is fired, demoted, or suffers other adverse workplace action because they “blew the whistle” on unsafe or illegal working conditions, the employee may be entitled to reinstatement of their job, lost wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
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There are a full gamut of laws at union’s disposal to complement an organizing campaign or help guarantee that area wages and standards are not violated by non-union employers. While the firm has experience representing labor unions in traditional union legal matters such as arbitrations, unfair labor practice charges before the NLRB, and duty of fair representation (DFR) litigation, James and Ryan focus their practice on representing unions, their members, and employees they are organizing in a much wider range of legal matters.
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The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) is the federal law regulating employee benefits provided by private sector employers. ERISA does not require that employers offer their employees retirement, health care, or any other type of benefit. However, the law regulates the management of such benefit plans, investment of plan assets, disclosure of information, the claims process, and many other technical aspects. ERISA is enforced by the United States Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), as well as through private lawsuits brought by plan participants and beneficiaries against employers, plans and plan fiduciaries.
Learn more about our Employee Benefits and ERISA practice.