Court Rejects Flower Foods Independent Contractor Argument and Allows Overtime and FLSA Case to Proceed

Large companies sometimes try to look for ways of getting around the laws that protect their employees by requiring their workers to sign contracts in which they agree to forfeit certain rights guaranteed them by law.

Flowers Foods, Inc. is one of the leading producers and marketers of packaged bakery foods in the U.S. Until recently, the company maintained a distribution model in which its distributors were classified as independent contractors.

Independent contractors are self-employed workers who run their own businesses. They are not subject to any of the protections under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), including minimum wage and overtime regulations. Because the FLSA does not extend its protections to independent contractors, it is very specific about the requirements workers must meet in order to be considered independent contractors.

Independent contractors must be able to negotiate their own rates, make their own hours, control the environment they work in, and wear what they want while working. Although distributors for bakeries may have been able to operate as independent contractors at one point, the fact is the modern industry requires the bakery to make all the important decisions regarding the governing of their distributors, including determining the price, product selection, and promotion of the bakery’s items.

Distributors working for Flowers Foods in North Carolina filed a class action lawsuit against the company on behalf of all the nearly 250 North Carolina distributors working for Flowers Foods. The lawsuit is alleging violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act, as well as North Carolina common law.

Flowers Foods filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds the distributors signed contracts stating they were independent contractors. But the court refused, saying that employers cannot require their employers to waive the rights granted to them by the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act.

The court further refused to rule that the distributors were exempt from the requirement of premium overtime compensation under the FLSA. The court also applied the federal Motor Carrier Act (MCA) to the FLSA, which resulted in the court’s determination that workers driving small vehicles (10,000 pounds or less) are not exempt from protections under the FLSA.

The wage and hour lawsuit will now proceed through the courts as a class action, but it’s not just the plaintiffs in this case who will benefit from the recent decision. All workers in the state of North Carolina who have been illegally forced to sign away their rights as employees will now have an opportunity to file for claims under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act, as well as the FLSA.

The decision is also likely to affect distributors of Flowers Foods in states other than North Carolina. Flowers Foods works with distributors from more than thirty states all over the eastern and southern United States. The recent decision made by a federal court in North Carolina could prompt distributors working out of other Flowers Foods locations to file their own wage and hour lawsuits against the bakery.

Our Romeoville and Orland Park wage and hour attorneys and Chicago class action lawyers and attorneys are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages. We represent call center workers who are forced to work overtime but are not paid time and half wages.

Nationwide Consumer Rights is class action and unpaid overtime law firm based in Chicago and Oakbrook Terrace. We represent clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Chicago class action attorneys by phone at 630-333-0333 or through our online form.

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