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Informal Complaint to Supervisor About Pay Prohibits Retaliation Under the FLSA

    Client Alerts
  • May 01, 2015
As with most federal labor laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about violation of their rights to overtime pay and minimum wage. In its 2011 Kasten decision, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that this anti-retaliation statute includes oral complaints, as long as they are sufficiently clear and detailed for the employer to understand. The Supreme Court did not directly decide whether such oral complaints unaccompanied by any administrative procedure with a government agency are sufficient to raise whistleblower protections.

Last month in a 2-1 decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals extended the FLSA’s anti-retaliation protections to informal oral complaints made to a supervisor. In Greathouse, v. JHS Sec., Inc., a security guard complained to his supervisor (and part owner of the business) that he had not been paid in several months. After being fired, the plaintiff sued, alleging that his termination was the result of this complaint over wage payment. The Second Circuit agreed, allowing the matter to proceed for a determination of the specificity and clarity of this complaint under Kasten. The court rejected the employer’s contention that Kasten required a complaint to a government agency to invoke the FLSA’s anti-retaliation prohibitions.

The majority opinion stated that the language of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision indicates that an internal complaint is sufficient to fall under its protections. As long as the complaint is sufficiently clear, the employee cannot be retaliated against whether or not they have consulted with a government agency. This decision is consistent with those of other federal courts that have lowered the requirements for employees to claim retaliation. Any employee complaint about violation of legal rights, internal or external, written or oral, should be taken seriously, and no adverse actions should be taken against the employee based on the fact that they raised such complaints.