Most HR professionals in the private sector are aware of the risks presented by non-compliance with the overtime and minimum wage requirements of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and its state law companion, the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act ("PMWA"). Since 1974, the FLSA's requirements have applied to virtually all state and local government employees and most federal employees, too.
A recent decision in the case of Morrow v. County of Montgomery illustrates this point. In Morrow, a class of correctional officers at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility filed a class action lawsuit against the County in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging that they were not compensated for time spent working before and after their scheduled shifts. The plaintiffs in Morrow sought damages under both the FLSA and PMWA. On January 31, 2014, the Court issued a decision that (1) dismissed the plaintiffs' PMWA claims, but (2) granted the plaintiffs' motion to conditionally certify a collective action based on their claims under the FLSA. After noting that no court has directly ruled on the applicability of the PMWA to government entities, the Court concluded that government entities were not covered by the PMWA and dismissed the plaintiffs' state law claims. However, the Court also held that plaintiffs met their initial burden of showing that the proposed class members were similarly situated and conditionally certified the class for purposes of an FLSA collective action. Thus, the class-based FLSA claims for unpaid overtime will move forward.
The Court's holding in Morrow that the PMWA does not apply to government entities is certainly useful for public sector employers. That said, the remainder of the decision confirmed that, with a few limited exceptions, the FLSA applies to government entities in the same manner that it applies to private sector employers. Public sector employers face the same risks and threats of class-based litigation under the FLSA that have vexed the private sector for years. As such, it is important for all employers, public and private alike, to work to ensure compliance with the FLSA.