Can a company fire an employee because they sued for back overtime? Recent news indicates that the answer is no – at least in California. This is exactly what Joong-Ang, publisher of Korea Daily (a Korean language newspaper based in California), found out when the court ordered him to pay $584,612 to three former employees.
The story began in June of 2013. Three of the newspaper’s employees filed a California overtime lawsuit alleging that they were not paid overtime wages as required by law. Only a couple months later – the three employees were fired from their jobs with Korea Daily.
Some claim this was a coincidence – which is arguable considering the fact that on the same day the three employees who filed suit were let go, all the employees at the same printing facility were also let go. Yet all the employees let go from that printing facility were rehired by another company that took over the operations – all except the three employees who filed a California overtime lawsuit against the newspaper. According to the three plaintiffs, they were not advised of the opportunity alongside their co-workers.
When they discovered what had happened, the three now unemployed workers added more claims to their suit including wrongful termination.
The courts sided with the plaintiffs. They won the case. The Korean language newspaper appealed, but late last month, Korea Daily lost their appeal.
According to California Labor Code Section 1199, it is illegal for an employer to fail to provide overtime wages in accordance with the Industrial Welfare Commission. As occurred in this case, the employees have the right to overtime wages and may exercise that right (in this situation by filing an overtime lawsuit). If the employer then terminates the employee for exercising their right to overtime pay, the worker could be entitled to additional “damages” due to wrongful termination.
So, essentially, Joong-Ang, the publisher of Korea Daily, was ordered by the court to pay $584,000 for firing employees who demanded they be paid overtime the company was required to pay by law. If you are a company in California make sure you are familiar with both federal and state overtime rules. Employees are entitled to overtime and are seeking restitution in court more than ever before.
If you are a California business that needs assistance with employment law violations or if you are a California employee who is not paid overtime pay, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.