Lawsuits against McDonald’s restaurants highlight wage and hour issues

The McDonald's restaurant chain has been serving fast food in thousands of locations around the world for over 50 years. During that time, their ubiquitous golden arches have weathered many a public relations storm dealing with everything from trans fats in the fries to "pink slime" additives in the burgers. A new storm is on the horizon now, though. The chain faces myriad law suits alleging numerous violations of state and federal employment laws, including:

  • Allegations that managers were ordered by their superiors (franchisees or corporate employees) to steal the wages of people who worked overtime by unfairly deducting uniform, name tag, employee meals or other charges to offset labor costs
  • Denying employees breaks to cut down on staffing needs
  • Forcing employees to work "off the clock" to reduce the need for overtime pay
  • Firing employees for speaking out against unfair practices
  • Taking so many deductions that employees bring home less than the mandated minimum wage

With cases filed in New York, California and Michigan still winding their way through the nation's court system, these lawsuits against McDonald's have resulted in media attention shining on the oft-neglected area of employee wage and hour claims.

Federal employment protections

While it is true that states have their own form of employee protections, the federal government, particularly the United States Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, are tasked with enacting and enforcing national labor laws. These agencies, together with Congress, have set forth rules that mandate employee rest breaks, set minimum wages, dictate how and when overtime compensation is due, and protect employees who need to be away from work because of illness or injury (under the Family and Medical Leave Act).

For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that any employee working more than 40 hours in a week be compensated at "a rate not less than time-and-a-half their regular rate of pay" for those extra hours. Employers who deny their workers rightfully earned overtime compensation can face sanctions in the form of fines and payment of back wages for all employees affected. McDonald's stands accused of not giving some of its employees overtime compensation at all, much less at the standard "time-and-a-half" rate.

Furthermore, the DOL is currently undergoing the "Employee Misclassification Initiative"
in California and several other states. The initiative's goal is to ensure that employers like McDonald's are not purposely misclassifying employees as "independent contractors" for the purpose of avoiding taxes and providing employee benefits like health insurance, sick time and vacation accrual.

Lessons learned?

Since the cases against McDonald's are still in their infancy, the final impact that they will have is yet to be seen. There is a chance that these cases could be precedent-setting, ushering in an all new way of treating employees. On the flip side, there's also a chance that the cases won't impact other organizations at all. One thing is certain, though: the cases have certainly gotten people talking about these important employment-related issues.

If you or someone you care about is facing similar wage and hour issues in your workplace, call an experienced employment law attorney in your area to learn more about protecting your rights and making illegal or unethical activity stop.