The U.S. Supreme Court’s March 22, 2011 ruling in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain resolved a long-standing question of whether oral complaints are protected from the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision, which prohibits employers from firing an employee because the “employee has filed any complaint… under or related to the Act.”  The Court held that FLSA complaints could in fact be “filed” verbally under the meaning of the statute and that a written complaint of an FLSA violation was not required in order for a complaining employee to be protected from retaliation.  The federal appellate circuits have come to different conclusions in this regard prior to the ruling, creating a split between circuits on the issue.

The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees one and a half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of forty hours per week.  The FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision prohibits employers from terminating or taking other adverse employment action against an employee because he or she made a complaint of a violation of the Act.

In Kasten, the employee claimed that he had made several oral complaints to his supervisors that the company’s location of time clocks was illegal under the FLSA because it prevented him and other employees from being compensated for time spent handling their work gear.  The employee claimed that his employer terminated him for making such complaints and that the termination fell under the definition of retaliation under the FLSA.

The Supreme Court agreed, stating a complaint is “filed” for FLSA purposes when “a reasonable, objective person would have understood the employee to have put the employer on notice that the employee is asserting statutory rights under the Act.”  The Court went on to state that while the Act’s language does contemplate “some degree of formality” in the filing of a complaint, the intent and purpose of the Act is to protect employees from FLSA violations, as well as to protect them from being retaliated against for complaining about violations.

The ruling provides broader protection for employees who complain about FLSA violations, such as not being paid for overtime.