A company must pay at least $1.75 million for unpaid bathroom breaks and other short leaves after a U.S. district judge found it in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the U.S. Department of Labor said in a released statement Monday.
U.S. District Judge L. Felipe Restrepo determined that American Future Systems, doing business as Progressive Business Publications, and its owner Edward Satell, were responsible for back wages from unpaid breaks, along with an "equal amount in liquidated damages," according the Department of Labor statement
, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Restrepo, according to the Inquirer, is giving the Labor Department and American Future Systems until Thursday to come up with a plan to manage the payment process to more than 6,000 employees who work in 14 call centers throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio.
The Inquirer wrote that many of company's employees work as telemarketers who offer free subscriptions to the company's 20 newsletters. Subscribers are billed after the first few issues unless they cancel their subscriptions, according to the newspaper.
"For far too long, American Future Systems penalized its employees for taking breaks to meet the most basic needs during the work day – stretching their legs, getting a glass of water or just using the restroom," Jim Cain, district director for the labor department's wage and hour division.
"The judge's decision reaffirms how clear the (Fair Labor Standards Act) is about short breaks being compensable, and goes a long way in making these employees whole by awarding liquidated damages," Cain continued.
Satell told USA Today
on Tuesday that he will appeal the decision, originally issued by Restrepo on Dec. 16.
"Our company has a liberal break policy of allowing our telemarketers to choose unpaid breaks anytime, for any reason, for as long as they want," Satell said to USA Today. "This flex work policy was greatly valued by many of our employees to handle their personal needs.
"If upheld, we'd have to discontinue this generous policy. We have very good legal reasons to be hopeful that the court will reverse the ruling," Satell continued.
The labor department said that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not require lunch or coffee breaks, but if employees do offer such short breaks, usually five to 20 minutes in length, the law considers the break compensable work hours "that must be included in the sum of hours for the work week and considered in determining overtime."
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