Tennessee Legal Blog

Nurses file wage and hour disputes for unpaid meal breaks

The work of a Tennessee nurse is often exhausting. Nurses spend many hours on their feet and may work long shifts with demanding responsibilities. When a nurse has the opportunity to take a break, that time is likely precious and well-deserved. However, recently some nurses in another state have revealed that the hospitals where they work are not granting them the breaks they deserve. The wage and hour disputes between the nurses and their employers may gain class action status.

Nurses from numerous hospitals allege that their weekly hours include an automatic deduction of 30 minutes for a daily meal break. However, the nurses contend they are forced to take those unpaid breaks with their phones in case they are needed by patients or others on the medical staff. If a need arises, the nurses are expected to respond even if they are taking their meals.

Sears faces new ERISA lawsuit

It is no secret that retail stores in Tennessee and elsewhere are struggling to keep up with changes in consumer shopping habits. Brick-and-mortar stores that do not also have a strong e-commerce presence continue to fight through bankruptcies and lawsuits. Sears Holdings Corporation, for example, seems to be trying to hold on to solvency even as the value of company stocks declines. Because of these failing stocks, participants in the company's retirement plan recently filed a lawsuit claiming Sears fiduciaries violated their duties according the ERISA rules.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act requires fiduciaries of company benefits plans to take reasonable steps to protect the interests of the beneficiaries. Participants in the Sears Holdings Savings Plans in the United States and Puerto Rico filed a lawsuit claiming the Sears Holdings Corporation allowed the plans to offer Sears stocks as an option for participants when the corporation knew the stocks were failing. Because the defendants did not close the Sears Stock Fund to new investments, savings plan assets continued to be invested in the dismally performing stocks.

Mass torts for mesothelioma may bring some relief to victims

In Tennessee, many major industries put workers at risk. For example, employees of power plants, manufacturing companies and transportation industries may have suffered exposure to asbestos particles, which developed into life-threatening conditions like cancer and mesothelioma. Rather than individually seeking financial help for their conditions, many from similar industries come together in mass torts to pursue compensation from their employers. This compensation may be especially helpful to those suffering from deadly and incurable mesothelioma.

When doctors tell patients they have mesothelioma, it is never good news. Those suffering from this asbestos-related illness likely understand that they have a hard road ahead of them. Their family members may want to understand what to expect as the disease progresses so they can do their best to help their loved ones cope with the suffering.

Storm’s a brewing: Beer maker sued over tip pooling

Who doesn’t love a bottle of suds? For about 100 current and former employees at Surly Brewing Company, some effervescence is in order after a judge ruled that the company’s tip-pooling policy violated state and federal labor laws.

Tip pooling is the practice of combining tips and then splitting them evenly. While it is customary for bartenders to pool their tips, it is uncommon for servers to do so. Tip-pooling is lawful if all parties agree.

Dunkin' Donuts workers start wage and hour dispute against owner

Coffee and donuts on the way to work is routine for many people in Tennessee. Fortunately, commuters can usually find a Dunkin' Donuts nearby to satisfy their morning cravings. However, for workers in a Dunkin' Donuts franchise in another state, their job situation was less than satisfying. After overcoming their fear of losing their job or being reprimanded, employees joined together in a wage and hour dispute against the owner of the franchise.

The franchise owner operated 16 Dunkin' Donuts in the area, but he established each of the shops under a different corporate name. Apparently, this allowed him to schedule a worker up to 30 hours at one location and an additional 20 hours at another to avoid having to pay that employee overtime. Additionally, shift workers were allegedly required to do prep work before clocking in and cleanup after clocking out. Workers were not compensated for mandatory training and were left to pay any bank fees if their paychecks bounced.

Mass torts to decide if boss unfairly required tip sharing

Gathering employees together to complain about work conditions is a common and often successful tactic in Tennessee and across the country. In the same way, mass torts or class action lawsuits bring people with common complaints together in the hope that more voices will improve the chances of a successful grievance, especially when those individuals filing the suit feel powerless against a larger entity. A recent class action lawsuit in another state pits employees against their boss, but the employer denies the accusations made against him.

The workers drove delivery for a college campus eatery. In addition to their sub-minimum hourly pay, the drivers accepted tips from customers. However, in their complaint, the drivers say the restaurant owner made them contribute 8 percent of their tips to the kitchen workers so he would not have to pay the kitchen employees a fair minimum wage. The owner kept a jar in the kitchen where the drivers could drop a portion of their tips.

Protecting the rights of immigrant workers from abuse

Regardless of citizenship status, workers within the United States are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act. This act ensures that workers receive minimum wages, overtime pay and protects against child labor violations. Unfortunately, some employers take advantage of immigrant laborers’ vulnerability, and try to strip them of their basic rights. 

Tennessee is growing, and with that growth comes an increased need of laborers. A landscaping company in Murfreesboro, Outdoors Unlimited, offered immigrants pay, housing, transportation and a temporary work visa to work as landscapers in Tennessee. However, immigrant workers reported that the company failed to adequately deliver on their promises, refusing to pay wages and failing to respect its workers.

ERISA violations may lead to civil or criminal consequences

Often a benefits package is one of the deciding factors taken into consideration when someone in Tennessee applies for a job. This may include such things as a pension, retirement fund, health insurance or profit-sharing. However, it is not unheard of for such private employers to lure workers in with big promises only to disappoint by denying those benefits or changing the scope of the plans without warning. This is where ERISA comes into play.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act is a federal oversight that sets minimum standards for worker benefits offered by certain private industries. While ERISA does not require employers to provide such benefits, it does insist on ethical fiduciary management and transparency between the employer and those receiving the benefits. An employer who denies promised benefits to current or past employees may be in violation of ERISA. Likewise, a fiduciary who mishandles employee investments may face penalties for ERISA violations.

Company agrees to repay workers after wage and hour disputes

For many in Tennessee, overtime hours close the gap between falling behind and making ends meet. Those extra hours are often sacrificed from time spent with family or much needed rest and relaxation, but some may have no choice if they want to pay their mortgages or provide for their children. This is why federal law protects workers when unfair pay practices result in wage and hour disputes with their employers.

In another state, workers at a business manufacturing steel storage structures complained that their employer took advantage of them in ways that violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. A U.S. Department of Labor investigation revealed that the company withheld overtime for employees who worked longer than 40 hours a week. Additionally, the cost of tools workers were required to use on the job was deducted from their paycheck, dropping their hourly wage below the minimum $7.25 required by federal law.

Mass torts bring settlement for those affected by security breach

A security breach that compromises personal information generally does not affect only one customer. In fact, depending on the size of the company, hundreds or thousands of people may be at risk. When this happens in Tennessee, it is not unheard of for those affected customers to join in mass torts claims to seek compensation from the company responsible for protecting their crucial personal data.

One health insurance company in another state has recently settled a class action lawsuit that resulted after a security breach compromised the private data of almost 80 million people. Anthem, Inc. suffered a cyberattack in 2015, which was discovered when a systems administrator noticed his code being used for unauthorized access to patient information. Anthem offered customers affected by the breach two years of free identification protection service, but the latest settlement adds a cash value to that compensation.

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