The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) includes a provision that prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file complaints against the employer with a government agency. For years, court across the country, including the Federal Appeals Courts remained split about whether this protection extended to employees who made complaints to their private employer, as it does under state law in Massachusetts and other states. In April 2015, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals joined with eight other circuits to rule in favor of this FLSA protection – that employees who make internal complaints are protected – in Greathouse vs. JHS Security Inc.
Details of the Case
- The employee verbally complained to his employer that months had passed since his last paycheck.
- The employee alleged that his employer pointed a gun at him and told him that he would get paid when the employer felt like paying him.
- The plaintiff filed suit for unpaid wages and retaliation.
- The plaintiff argued that the exchange with his employer was a constructive discharge that violated the FLSA prohibition against retaliations.
- The district court ruled against the plaintiff on the retaliation claim, following a previous ruling by the Second Circuit that informal verbal complaints made to supervisors did not fall under the FLSA protections.
On appeal, the Second Circuit reversed its prior stance by holding that the goal of the FLSA favors the inclusion of certain intra-company complaints under retaliation protection. The court went on to explain that “grumbles in the hallways about an employer’s payroll practice” are not covered by FLSA and that covered complaints must have “some degree of formality.” For employees, this decision offers some level of assurance that formal complaints to supervisors are protected against retaliation.