Carlos was hired as a Taco Bell manager and paid a salary, which meant, according to Taco Bell, that he wouldn't be paid overtime. But Carlos was misclassified: the company violated the California labor law (and labor laws in other states) because overtime-exempt managers are not exempt if they primarily perform hourly-worker duties.
"When I was hired at Taco Bell, the area manager said that I would get about two hours of overtime per day," says Carlos. "So I was prepared to work 10-hour days, but those days soon turned into 12–16 hours a day. And these long days were becoming more and more frequent. It was very stressful."
Carlos was paid a salary that was based on an hourly wage. He was never told that his position was exempt, nor did he know that he was classified as "exempt": a tactic that many companies, including Taco Bell, employ so they can get around not paying overtime.
"I worked at Taco Bell for five years and always worked overtime," says Carlos. "Instead of paying overtime on my weekly check, my boss made me take a day off, but I never agreed to that proposal. When I decided to speak up, to tell him that was a California overtime violation, I was terminated.
"I spoke up about many issues, not just overtime. One time a family member passed away. I phoned my boss and said I needed time off. 'There is nothing I can do—find someone yourself because I'm not here to help you,' he said. Talk about a hostile work environment! I called Taco Bell HR about my overtime. Supposedly they were going to do an investigation, so I handed them my timesheets as proof, but they just ignored me.
"Two weeks after my complaint to HR I was fired—the area manager didn't have the guts to fire me. Another area manager took me to a coffee shop nearby and terminated me. The reason he gave was cash discrepancy. There was money missing in the safe but I wasn't there when it went missing—I was on vacation. I know they used this reason as an excuse because I spoke out.
"A few co-workers complained to me about their long hours without getting overtime pay, but they were too afraid of retaliation; they are afraid of losing their job—and that is very sad. They see what happened to me and it scares them even more. Lots of people were working overtime because we couldn't finish cashing out and cleaning up in eight hours.
"As well, they have us come in 15–20 minutes early and walk around the building before we go into the restaurant and clock in. We have to make sure the area is safe first—that people haven't broken in during the night; we have to make sure the parking lot is clean. And we had meetings every Thursday after work for at least an hour—we never got paid for that either.
"I sent a letter to the CA labor commission but they never replied. Then I was contacted by an attorney through Lawyers and Settlements, so maybe Taco Bell will face yet another lawsuit.…"
Taco Bell Lawsuits Nationwide—A Timeline
READ MORE CALIFORNIA OVERTIME LEGAL NEWS
In 2003, about 1,000 former employees of Taco Bell shared $1.5 million in a settlement that alleged the company violated labor laws.
In 2001, Taco Bell paid out $13 million in an overtime lawsuit. It was accused of pressing for "off-the-clock" labor and intentionally classifying employees as overtime-exempt managers despite their primarily hourly-worker duties (which they are doing again, this time to Carlos…).
Finally, in a lawsuit a judge certified as a class action in 1999, about 13,000 employees at 45 restaurants in Oregon contended that the fast-food chain violated overtime and meal-break rules.
Taco Bell denied any wrongdoing. And according to Carlos, the company is still in denial.