Workers on Indian Reservations Protected by Overtime Laws

Gordon Law Group

With all the talk of possible casinos on Indian reservation land in Massachusetts, not much has been said about whether those tribes would have to follow labor and employment laws.

A decision this week from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Washington State may shed light on at least one of those questions. The Court, in Solis v. Matheson, ruled that Baby Zack’s Smoke Shop, located within the Puyallup Indian Reservation, must pay overtime in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Court noted that although “Indian tribes have a special status as sovereigns,” … “those powers may be limited, modified, or eliminated by Congress.” The Court then examined whether the activity of the Smoke Shop was a profoundly intramural one, whether it was essential to self-government, whether the FLSA infringed on the tribe’s authority to prosecute tribe members or whether the FLSA would conflict with the tribe’s right of self-governance in the field of wage and hour laws.

The Court found that the Smoke Shop was not a “tribal business,” and that there was “nothing profoundly intramural or involving self-governance about the employment of Indians and non-Indians by a retail business engaged in interstate commerce.” Thus, the Court found that the DOL could make entry onto the reservation to enforce the FLSA.

This case should serve as a cautionary tale to those who think that what happens on the reservation stays on the reservation.

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