Overtime, breaks subjects of California workplace dispute

American workers spend a large percentage of our waking lives within the workplace. Because we give so much of our time to our jobs, we expect to be treated fairly and compensated in the manner laid out by our employment agreements as well as California law. When workers do not receive the compensation that they have earned, many try to handle their workplace dispute through the channels within their company. When those efforts fail, the employee is left with little choice but to turn to litigation to rectify the matter.

One California company is currently being sued for failing to adequately compensate workers under wage and labor laws. The company, Harbor Express, is a large trucking firm that employs as many as 40 individuals. At issue is the manner in which the company classifies workers, specifically whether they are considered employees or independent contractors. Harbor Express asserts that the two men who have filed the suit are independent contractors, not employees.

By classifying workers as independent contractors, Harbor Express is able to avoid giving workers breaks or paying them overtime. In addition, the company can pay independent contractors less than an employee for the same job, in part by avoiding paying drivers by the hour, which would include payment for delays and breaks. As it stands, drivers are simply paid by the trip, regardless of how long it takes to get from point A to point B.

The drivers in this workplace dispute are seeking status as a class action, which could open the suit to as many as 400 other drivers. They may find success, as California has been aggressively pursuing companies who misclassify workers in efforts to circumnavigate existing labor laws. The use of independent contractors within the trucking industry has been long-established, and estimates suggest that only 10 percent of drivers are considered employees. California truck drivers and their families will likely follow this case closely to see how it is ultimately resolved.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Truck drivers sue over overtime, meal breaks," Ricardo Lopez, May 15, 2013

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