Lesson from Brink's case: Check your state's wage laws
OLYMPIA, Wash.-- Last Thursday's Washington State Supreme Court decision that said Brink's Home Security technicians should be paid for driving company trucks to and from their homes to job sites, will have repercussions for other security companies in the state of Washington, and companies in other states as well, according to an industry attorney.
Mark Neuberger, an attorney concentrating on labor and employment law with Buchanan, Ingersoll, PC, noted that the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act regulates these issues on a federal level. He surmised that this case would not have been decided in the employees' favor under the federal law, but pointed out that many states, including Washington, "have more protective wage-hour laws."
"Any employer in the industry in the state of Washington will want to be very familiar with this case...[and employers in other states] will want to check with their state's wage-hour laws to see what it says about this kind of activity," Neuberger said.
The Oct. 25 decision on the Brink's workers, upheld a lower court decision that awarded $1.4 million in back pay, attorneys' fees and interest, to 70 Brink's Home Security technicians. The case was originally filed November 2002.
Justice Susan Owens wrote in the majority 7-2 decision that the technicians were on duty and in a prescribed workplace while driving the trucks, and therefore were protected under the state's wage-hour laws.
Neuberger cautioned that cases dealing with wage-hour claims "are the hottest area being litigated by employees." In states with protective wage-hour laws, such as California, "there are entire groups of lawyers who are filing these cases," he said, because all they need to do under the federal law is "prove that there was one hour of unpaid wages and they're entitled to receive attorneys' fees."
Brink's does not intend to pursue further legal challenge, said Rod McDonald, vice president, secretary and general counsel of Brink's Home Security. He said Brink's was "naturally disappointed in the Court's decision, which we believe is not an accurate interpretation of the statutory requirements or judicial precedent."
McDonald said Brink's believes the ruling is "ultimately detrimental not only to employers, but also to employees who may no longer receive the benefit of using company-provided vehicles under certain circumstances."
He surmised that other security companies may be affected by this case as well as "any company that offers, or would like to offer, its employees the voluntary use of company-owned vehicles for commuting and work purposes."
The practical result is that "Brink's can no longer provide its Washington employees the voluntary home dispatch option, and it is likely that there are a great many other companies doing business in Washington that are also re-evaluating similar programs," he said.