If an employee walks up to you and says he’s having problems with the time clock, is that a legal “complaint”? The U.S. Supreme Court just answered the question.
Actually, what the court did was define the phrase “file a complaint” – which is the language used in the Fair Labor Standards Act governing issues of pay, time keeping and some working conditions.
The question before the court was whether an employee who, in conversation, had told his supervisor about problems with the company time clock could later claim that he had “filed” a complaint.
The short answer from the court: Yes, an oral complaint does amount to “filing” a complaint. Here’s why the ruling is important:
The employee in the case had been disciplined several times for time-clock violations, and finally was fired. The employee sued the company, saying the termination was in retaliation for complaints about the problems with the company’s time clock. The FLSA strictly forbids retaliation for complaints about pay and time keeping.
The company’s argument: The conversations didn’t amount to complaints, since they’d never been written down, and so there could be no charge of retaliation for complaining.
The court’s decision: Employee wins. The word file (a complaint) includes conversations.
The lesson: When an employee mentions any problems with pay, time keeping, etc., document the complaint and how it was addressed. Most of all, take such oral complaints as seriously as if they were written.
Cite: Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.