Third Circuit Stymies Employer’s Attempt to Force FLSA Overtime and Meal Break Pay Claims into Collectively Bargained Arbitration

Earlier this month, in a 2-1 decision, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that certified nursing assistants covered by a collective bargaining agreement are not required to arbitrate their FLSA claims before seeking court relief despite a mandatory arbitration clause in their labor agreement. The assistants claimed that their shift differentials should be included in the calculation of their overtime pay and challenged the deductions from their pay for meal breaks they did not take. The Third Circuit held that resolution of the assistants’ FLSA claims did not depend on an interpretation of language in the labor agreement and, therefore, the assistants were not required to arbitrate their claims. Jones v. SCO Silver Care Operations LLC (May 18, 2017).

The Court of Appeals explained that a court may compel arbitration of an FLSA claim when (1) the arbitration provision clearly and unmistakably waives the employee’s ability to vindicate federal statutory rights in court; and (2) the statute does not exclude arbitration as an appropriate forum. Here, the labor agreement’s grievance-arbitration provision did not expressly refer to FLSA or wage-hour claims, so there was no effective waiver of the right to go to court. Nonetheless, the Third Circuit recognized that even where a labor agreement’s arbitration clause fails to refer to the FLSA, the FLSA claimant may be forced to arbitrate disputes over an interpretation of a labor agreement if the FLSA claims are “inevitably intertwined with the interpretation or application” of the labor agreement.

On the issue of shift differentials, SCO Silver Care argued that the FLSA claim alleging miscalculation of the overtime rate consisted of a dispute over an implicit term of the labor agreement and whether shift differentials already include an overtime pay component. The Court rejected this argument and held that the overtime claim was governed by the FLSA, no analysis of the labor agreement’s treatment of shift differentials was required, and the Court should determine only whether the shift differentials at issue are remuneration that the FLSA requires to be included in the calculation of an employee’s regular hourly pay rate.

On the question whether the assistants’ meal breaks must be treated as hours worked, the employer argued that resolution of this issue depends on determining various meal break practices that occurred while the labor agreement was in effect and that this determination should be made by an arbitrator. The Court rejected this argument as well and found that the alleged meal break practices raised factual issues as to what work was performed during meal breaks and did not require a review of language in the labor agreement. The Court stated that the employer could not “transform these factual disputes inherent to any FLSA claim into disputes over provisions of the CBA subject to arbitration.”

If you would like to discuss how the Third Circuit’s decision affects your pay policies, arbitration clauses, wage and hour compliance program, and your business, please contact Patrick W. McGovern, Esq., Partner in the Firm’s Wage and Hour Compliance Practice Group at 973-535-7129 or at pmcgovern@nullgenovaburns.com.

 

 

 

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