FLSA Mythbuster: Understand the Limits of Non-Profit Groups in Protecting Workers’ Wage and Overtime Rights

The FLSA Mythbuster (identity and whereabouts unknown) usually dedicates this column to “busting” commonly accepted workplace rules that, in fact, violate federal and state overtime law. In this quarter’s edition, however, we digress to address a myth that is gaining traction among certain commentators.

The myth I speak of is the notion that companies that blatantly violate this Nation’s overtime laws can be brought to justice by non-lawyers who lack the resources and bar admissions necessary to vindicate the rights of workers in the United States District Courts.

Make no mistake about it: this Nation is blessed with many individuals and non-profit groups that play crucial roles in organizing, educating, and protecting workers. Indeed, President Obama exemplifies how “community activists” can change the world.

History has proven, however, that lawsuits handled by skilled lawyers from private law firms or the United States Department of Labor are the most efficient and effective way to bring justice to workers whose overtime rights are violated.

In enacting the FLSA, Congress recognized the central role to be played by private lawyers and lawsuits in vindicating workers’ overtime rights. Congress placed in the FLSA a provision allowing workers to file private lawsuits and allowing workers who prevail in court to recover attorney’s fees in addition to unpaid wages and liquidated damages. Congress also provided that workers are not bound by private agreements that are not subjected to judicial scrutiny.

Entering into “conciliation discussions” with overtime violators without a meaningful threat of litigation seems a lot like bringing a slingshot to a gunfight. The FLSA exists so that workers can vindicate their rights in the United States District Courts.

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