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By Lindsay M. Bouffard
Observant employers who have taken note of the Department of Labor’s increasing enforcement activity in the oil and gas industry may be looking for creative ways to limit their liability. However, a recent Sixth Circuit case makes it clear that trying to shorten employees’ time to bring wage and hour claims may not be the way to go. While employers can shorten the statute of limitations for some types of employment claims through employment agreements, that may not work for claims under federal wage and hour laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or Equal Pay Act (EPA). The Sixth Circuit recently issued a decision in a case where an employment agreement purported to limit an employee’s time to bring claims against her employer to the shorter of the time set by law, or six months from the event forming the basis of the lawsuit. The employee brought suit against the employer in April 2009 alleging she had been paid less than her male predecessor. The employer moved for summary judgment arguing that the employee’s claims were untimely under her employment agreement because she had received her last paycheck, the basis of the alleged illegal activity, on June 30, 2008, more than six months before she filed suit. The employee won in the trial court, but the appellate court held that the six month limitation period in the employment agreement was invalid. The bottom line for employers is that, when it comes to attempts to shorten statutes of limitations, some laws might allow it, but others will not. Employers who are using employment applications, agreements, or other documents with shortening provisions should review those provisions with counsel. Regardless of any limitations in such documents, employers must be prepared to defend against FLSA and EPA claims that are timely brought within the statutory limitations period.
Lindsay Bouffard focuses her practice on labor and employment law.
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