It is unlawful under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for an employer to retaliate against an employee who has “filed any complaint” – an ambiguous term – related to acts prohibited by the FLSA, such as failure to pay overtime or federal minimum wage violations.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan has overruled long-established precedent that the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision requires that an employee’s complaint must have been made to a governmental agency. In Greathouse v. JHS Security Inc., 784 F.3d 105 (2d Cir. 2015), that court recently held that an employee’s internal complaints to an employer are protected from retaliation under the FLSA. As the court explained, a complaint is considered “filed” for FLSA purposes “when a reasonable objective person would have understood the employee to have put the employer on notice that the employee is asserting statutory rights under the Act.”
This ruling is significant for employers, who must now be extremely sensitive to employee complaints, or even expressions of unhappiness with their wages and hours. Employers should particularly note that an employee need not invoke the FLSA by name in order for his or her internal complaint to be protected under the statute.