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Off-the-Clock Work Alleged at Waste Management Inc.

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Houston, TX: On the surface, an unpaid wages lawsuit would suggest that work is performed without receiving compensation. But there is a grey area. Were an employee be required to don and then doff cumbersome uniforms or protective gear prior to starting work, one would assume the donning of protective gear required by the employer would be met with compensation, as it is a requirement of the job.

Off-the-Clock Work Alleged at Waste Management Inc.Not always.

And if an employer docks a worker for punching in late to start the day, or returning from a lunch break late, the penalty could be interpreted as off-the-clock work.

The latter was highlighted in the presence of a television camera crew for the reality TV series Undercover Boss in 2010. The premiere episode of the series featured Waste Management Inc., a goliath amongst the waste management industry with 42,800 employees and total equity of $6.591 billion (2010 figures).

And yet - as the television show documented - if you were a minute late clocking in after a lunch break, you were docked two minutes pay. Essentially, that minute a worker is docked is a minute’s worth of work the employer is not paying for. In essence, it becomes off-the-clock work.

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Waste Management at the time, Lawrence (Larry) O’Donnell III, while posing undercover as a general laborer, was shown on camera to view the docked pay rule as unfair and repealed the penalty sometime after the CBS series debuted February 7, 2010, following the Super Bowl. O’Donnell was depicted as making other changes to the firm.

However O’Donnell is no longer at Waste Management, leaving the firm on July 1, 2010 - five months after O’Donnell’s appearance on Undercover Boss aired - and barely one month after, it should be noted, Waste Management settled an unpaid overtime lawsuit in Massachusetts.

And according to various complaints boards, there are still issues at Waste Management that employees are not happy about.

One individual posting to ComplaintsBoard.com, a widely used consumer website, noted in a 2011 post that he had worked at Waste Management for a period of 11 years, describing the most recent three years as a nightmare. The post author referenced working off the clock daily, and “I’m still thinking about a lawsuit.”

A woman who posted on June 20, 2011, noted that her husband was a current employee of Waste Management Inc. in Bridgeport, West Virginia, at the time she posted to the board, “but is quitting soon.” She noted her husband leaves for work at 4:00 a.m. and doesn’t arrive back home until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. It is not clear if the worker was receiving overtime and therefore might consider an unpaid wages lawsuit. The worker, according to his wife, was missing out on vacation time because, she alleged, Waste Management had insufficient employees to keep up with the workload.

That complaint - i.e., the long hours of work - appears to be a common theme with Waste Management current and former workers who’ve left reviews on the employment website, Glassdoor.com (see chart above of current and former employee reviews found at Glassdoor.com, 5/3/13).

While working long hours in and of itself does not necessarily translate to an overtime pay violation, the tenor of one WM employee’s comments seems to raise the question as to what’s expected of WM drivers, and the extent to which they’re compensated for what’s expected of them.

The WM driver, who’s based in Henderson, Colorado, left a comment on March 29, 2013, about having to attend safety meetings before each shift which, while understandably important, he says could be lengthy, and drivers are then expected to “make up the time.” His comment reads:

“They also hold safety meetings before each shift which at first I thought was great; many times you feel as though it is to express that ‘We are watching your every move out there’ and ‘You are all not meeting the quotas,’ meaning you are not working hard enough or fast enough!! And should these meeting put you behind because they run long that is your problem to make up the time somehow and their trucks break down on a constant basis, and you are also required to still figure out to make up your route should this happen, If you can’t, a supervisor will show up asking what the problem was, and why didn’t you get the route done...”

While the driver does not indicate whether or not he was compensated with overtime pay - or docked any pay if work was not completed - the insinuation is clear: the onus in on the worker to get the work done regardless of what management may require over and above completion of the garbage pickup route.

Any unpaid wages attorney is up to speed on the various ways an employer may foster unpaid wages - either from time clock penalties to refusing to pay an employee for the time needed to don, then doff company-mandated clothing and equipment deemed necessary for the job, or even for holding mandatory safety meetings that then force workers to put in extra time to complete their jobs. One company was famously taken to task for having an insufficient number of time clocks on site for the number of employees at their facility, causing employees to use the majority of their break time simply to line up and wait for the clock to become available. It was deemed an affront to the worker’s rights.

Approaching a qualified attorney about an unpaid wages claim is often the first step in a process that will bring justice for you, and fellow employees.

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