New Jersey Nursing Assistants Are Entitled to Pursue Overtime Case Despite Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Arbitration Clause

Minimum wage and overtime violations can occur in a variety of ways and can occur in almost any type of workplace. Regardless of the nature of your employment, there is the possibility that your employer could illegally underpay you when it comes to overtime pay that you’ve earned. If this happens to you, you need to take prompt action and contact an experienced New Jersey wage and hour attorney about your case.

One recent example of this was an overtime case involving Tymeco, Iesha, and Teairra, three certified nursing assistants who all worked at the same assisted living facility in South Jersey. The terms of the CNAs’ employment were stated in a collective bargaining agreement completed between the facility owner and the nurses’ union. The CBA required that all disputes arising out of the CBA must go to arbitration rather than directly to court.

The three CNAs’ lawsuit alleged that the employer underpaid them in two ways. First, according to the employees, the employer paid wage differentials that were included in their regular rate of pay, but, when the employer paid overtime, it failed to include those wage differentials in the calculation, meaning that the overtime rate of pay they received was less than the full time-and-a-half they should have received.

The other form of underpayment occurred through the alleged fact that the employer automatically deducted half-hour meal breaks from each employee’s time worked, even though, on many occasions, night shift workers would need to work through their meal breaks. This misstep meant that the CNAs were credited with an improperly low number of hours, which in turn meant that they got paid for an insufficient number of overtime hours, according to the employees’ arguments.

The employer’s approach to stopping this lawsuit was to cite the CBA. The CBA, it argued, required that disputes like these go through arbitration, instead of litigation in court. The arbitration provision in the CBA covered the alleged improper underpayment, so the dispute should not be allowed to go forward in the courts, according to the employer.

Arbitration clauses in employment contracts can be powerful tools that often benefit employers. Employers often view an arbitration hearing as a more favorable setting than a trial in court. The key then, as an employee, is to persuade the court that the arbitration clause either doesn’t apply or isn’t enforceable and that your court case should be allowed to proceed.

A recent Third Circuit Court of Appeals opinion concluded that these CNAs were allowed to proceed in court despite the existence of the arbitration provision in the CBA. Regarding the alleged improper calculation of the rate, the court concluded that the dispute was not one centered around any term in the CBA, but around a section of the Fair Labor Standards Act. If the disputed wage differentials met the statutory definition of “remuneration” contained in the FLSA, the CNAs were correct and had been unpaid on their overtime rate of pay. If the wage differentials weren’t remuneration, that claim by the CNAs necessarily failed. These two possible outcomes were unchanged regardless of the terms of the CBA regarding how the employees received wage differentials.

Regarding the meal break issue, the court concluded that this was a factual dispute, rather than a contractual one, and could also proceed. The key inquiry and analysis on this claim was whether the CNAs were truly “relieved of duty” or not during their meal breaks. If they were, the employer was entitled not to pay them. If they were not, the employer was required to pay them, and the CNAs had a viable claim. Again, these were true regardless of the specific details contained in the CBA, and therefore they didn’t qualify as disputes related to the CBA.

Since neither of the two claims was based upon a contractual dispute related to the CBA, the mandatory arbitration provision didn’t apply, and the CNAs were allowed to go ahead with their federal lawsuit in the legal forum that they chose.

The diligent New Jersey wage-and-hour attorneys at Phillips & Associates have been fighting for many years to help workers hurt by employers who violate the law regarding overtime or minimum wage. If you believe you’ve been denied overtime pay that you properly earned, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to set up a free and confidential consultation. Talk to one of our attorneys to find out how we can help you.

More blog posts:

Federal Courts Reject Employer’s Attempt to Sidestep FLSA Break Rules By Calling Its Break Policy Flexible Time, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Oct. 26, 2017

Contract’s Arbitration Provision Doesn’t Stop New Jersey Dancer from Pursuing Her Minimum Wage Lawsuit, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Oct. 16, 2017

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