A recent decision from the Eastern District of Wisconsin serves as a strong reminder that well-crafted handbook policies can sometimes save the day for employers in proposed Fair Labor Standards Act collective actions. Amandah v. Alro Steel Corp., No. 19-CV-1607-JPS (E.D. Wis. Aug. 21, 2020).
The plaintiff in Amandah brought a proposed collective action against his employer, claiming that the company unlawfully failed to compensate employees for all hours worked. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the employer maintained a policy encouraging employees to arrive 15 minutes early for work, but rounded the employees’ punch-in times to the scheduled start of the shift. The plaintiff’s proposed collective action encompassed hourly employees working at 73 warehouses spread across 12 states.
The court denied the plaintiff’s motion for conditional certification, finding there was insufficient evidence that employees were expected to begin working immediately upon clocking in for the shift. In denying the plaintiff’s motion, the court emphasized that the employer maintained written policies in its handbook prohibiting employees from working overtime without prior authorization and tasking supervisors with responsibility for ensuring that employees did not start working prior to the beginning of the shift. Although noting that “a policy forbidding overtime work is not a prophylaxis against suit if there are other unlawful policies at play,” the court held there was no evidence of any unlawful policy that applied equally across the 73 warehouses in question.
Bottom line: While employee handbooks are often treated as an afterthought, a well-drafted timekeeping policy can, in many cases, be the difference in defeating class certification.