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Court rules arbitration not necessary in dispute

Three certified nursing assistants filed a claim against their employer dealing with how overtime pay was calculated and whether they were paid for their meal breaks. Their employer said that the employees had to go through arbitration because the dispute was related to a collective bargaining agreement. The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey rejected the arguments of the employer, and the employer appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The higher court affirmed the decision of the lower court.

The lawsuit argued that the employer violated both the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage laws. The company did so by failing to include wage differentials in base pay when calculating overtime and in excluding meal breaks. In the latter instance, nursing assistants rarely got meal breaks at night due to understaffing.

The collective bargaining agreement did not specify that arbitration was necessary for FLSA disputes. The court's decision affirms that because the FLSA establishes certain rights in the same way that laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act do, the dispute resolution provisions of the CBA must make explicit mention of the FLSA. Otherwise, in court, the employer will be required to defend the claim.

Disputes with employers about issues such as overtime pay may be complex, and employees might want to begin by consulting an attorney about their employee rights. This consultation may help employees who plan to address workplace issues either less formally by reporting those issues to a supervisor or human resources or more formally in an arbitration process or lawsuit. An attorney may be able to work with the employee to develop a strategy that can be used in the workplace as well as one that can be used if the workplace is not responsive to the issue.

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