Employers Can Require Exempt Employees to Take Mandatory Leave and Still Meet the IMWL Salary Basis Test

At Lubin Austermuehle, we are accustomed to litigating wage claims brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and most of our clients have FLSA claims. However, our firm also is well versed in Illinois wage laws, and our Tinley Park wage and hour attorneys discovered an interesting overtime class-action in the Appellate Court of Illinois.

Robinson v. Tellabs, Inc. is wage dispute over a policy instituted by Defendant Tellabs requiring employees to take mandatory unpaid days off. Defendant is a manufacturer of telecommunications components that saw a significant boom in its business during the 1990’s, but saw its profits dwindle after the turn of the millennium. As a result of the downturn in revenue, Defendant laid off a significant portion of its work force and instituted many other cost cutting measures. One of the measures implemented by the company was to institute mandatory unpaid leave several days each year around existing paid holidays. Even after the mandatory unpaid leave policy was instituted, Defendant’s had to lay off additional employees to keep the company afloat.

The named Plaintiff worked as a lead engineer for Defendant while the unpaid leave policy was in effect, and was laid off eleven months after his hiring having never been paid any overtime. Plaintiff then filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that Defendant’s implementation of their mandatory unpaid leave policy made he and similarly situated employees non-exempt for the purposes of the Illinois Minimum Wage Law (IMWL). Therefore, Plaintiffs were entitled to overtime pay for any week in which they worked more than forty hours. The trial court ruled in favor of Defendant and found that the mandatory days off was essentially a prospective salary reduction that served the company’s bona fide business needs.

Plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s decision and claimed that the trial court incorrectly applied the salary basis test in making its ruling. The Appellate Court did not find Plaintiffs’ arguments persuasive and agreed with the trial courts decision. The Court discussed that the rule relied upon by the trial court and set forth by Department of Labor opinion letters, which states “the salary-basis test permits employers to prospectively reduce employees’ salaries for a legitimate business need unless done so frequently that the purported salary becomes a sham attempt to pay an hourly wage.” The Court went on to hold that the rule “refers only to deductions during the current pay period…not reductions in future salary.”
Because Defendant’s policy caused reductions in future salary and the policy was a result of Defendant’s bona fide economic difficulties, the Court found that Defendant satisfied the salary-basis test. Additionally, the Court found the test to be met because the policy was applied uniformly among all employees and was not instituted on an ad hoc basis.

Lubin Austermuehle has a team of overtime attorneys who focus on nationwide class action lawsuits. Our Chicago overtime lawyers 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. Lubin Austermuehle is based in Chicago, and represents 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 wage and hour attorneys by phone at 1 630-333-0333, or through our online form.

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