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Defenses to Wage and Overtime Claims: An Overview for Chicago Employers

Defenses to Wage and Overtime Claims: An Overview for Chicago Employers

Even when Illinois employers implement proper measures to maintain compliance with federal and state employment laws, there’s always the chance that a worker will file a wage claim with the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). Many times, you’ll disagree with the position of the employee, but you still need to properly protect your company’s interests during official investigations and proceedings. There are both legal and factual defenses available to contest the claim under certain circumstances, but developing a strategy can be a challenge. Rather than handling a claim yourself, trust an Illinois wage and overtime disputes attorney to take on the legal battle. An experienced lawyer can help explain potential defenses against a claim and tell you which options might work for your company.

Good Faith Defenses

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides two legal defenses that may apply in your situation.

  1. Absolute Defense: If you’ve implemented wage policies in reliance upon a written communication from the WHD, and complied with the writing, you may avoid liability. The theory is that you shouldn’t be penalized for following the agency’s interpretation of the FLSA, as long as you acted in accordance with it.
  2. Liquidated Damages Defense: In wage and hour claims, an employee would typically request back pay and liquidated damages; the latter is an extra award to the worker, intended to punish your violation of the FLSA. If you can prove that you acted in good faith, with a reasonable belief that you were in compliance with the law, you can avoid paying liquidated damages. You are still liable for back pay, however.

Avoidable Consequences Doctrine

This defense may be used to contest an employee wage claim if the employer has:

  • Demonstrated its commitment to full compliance with the FLSA;
  • Implemented and communicated rules banning off-the-clock work; and,
  • Provided a means for all workers to report violations.

The theory behind the avoidable consequences doctrine is that employees should bear some of the responsibility to mitigate their own harm. Out of fairness, this defense requires workers to have a reciprocal duty to follow the employer’s rules. In the event of a violation, they can take advantage of the internal mechanisms in place for reporting violations of the FLSA – rather than filing a wage or overtime claim.

A Chicago Wage and Overtime Disputes Lawyer Can Help

If an employee files an overtime or wage claim against you as an employer, don’t assume the only response is to pay up and accept the consequences. It may be possible to contest the allegations with a proper defense, but keep in mind that doing so takes you away from your top priority: Running your company. Plus, without a legal background, you’re at a disadvantage in representing your interests before the WHD. The attorneys at the Chicago Law Offices of Mitchell A. Kline can help. Our lawyers have years of experience representing Illinois employers in wage and overtime disputes, so please contact us to discuss your matter in more detail.


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