Federal labor law typically requires employees—including call center customer service representatives and telemarketing and sales employees (unless they are exempt)—to be paid overtime pay at a rate of not less than one-and-a-half times an employee's regular rate of pay after 40 hours of work in a workweek.
Lisa Nobles, the plaintiff in the State Farm suit, worked at the State Farm operations center in Columbia from 2005 to June of this year. According to Columbia attorney Brad Lear, she and other call center employees were expected to arrive at their desks before their paid shifts started to log into their computers, read and respond to work-related e-mails and do other pertinent tasks to make sure they were ready to make and take phone calls when their shifts began.
The lawsuit includes one count of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), one count of violating Missouri's minimum wage law and one count of unjust enrichment, as State Farm allegedly received benefit of unpaid work.
So why did Nobles wait five years to file a complaint? Her attorney believes that in most cases employees don't know their rights. "They also don't realize the significance of the lost earnings until those wages have accumulated," he said.
In Noble's case, that's a big chunk of change.
Lear estimated more than 1,000 workers at the Columbia call center were affected by the alleged overtime practice. And it's not the first time a similar suit has been filed in Columbia. In 2009, CenturyTel call center employees claimed they were not paid overtime. The employees reached a court-approved settlement and back pay was issued.
Meanwhile, CenturyTel's compensation practices are being investigated at other call centers located in Tucson, Arizona; Davenport, Iowa; Schaumburg, Illinois; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Wilmington, North Carolina; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Tampa, Florida; Newport News, Virginia; Corpus Christi, Texas; Utica, New York; and other states.
Perhaps State Farm has deep pockets, believes it is above the law, or is in denial of overtime violations. It may have done well to take a look at similar hour and wage lawsuits against Century Tel or APAC Customer Services, Inc. The APAC suit, filed May 2009, was brought by plaintiff Tiffany Sharpe for alleged violations of federal and state overtime compensation laws.
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In January 2010 the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin granted conditional certification to a class of all telephone dedicated customer service representatives employed by APAC.
If you were employed as a call center customer service representative, telemarketer, sales rep or other call center employee and you believe that you have not been paid all of the overtime pay, hourly wages, salary and other benefits that you believe you are owed, know your rights and seek a wage and hour attorney's advice. And remember, retaliation is also a labor law violation.