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Tennessee Employer’s GPS on Employee’s Car Does Not Defeat Overtime Claim Where Employer Failed to Keep Accurate Time Records

GPS tracking system

On July 5, 2018, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued an opinion carrying strong cautions for employers in Tennessee and across the country who do not keep accurate time records for employees who are entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.  The decision, entitled Snodgrass v. AHA Mechanical Cont. LLC (“AHA”), involved a salesman, Snodgrass, who sold AHA’s services for constructing and servicing HVAC systems.  Snodgrass was not exempt from entitlement to overtime pay.   While three AHA technicians were required to clock in and out each day, Snodgrass did not punch his time on the clock.  Although the parties disputed whether AHA did not require Snodgrass to log his time or whether he simply refused to do so, AHA did not keep accurate records of Snodgrass’ working hours.  AHA simply paid Snodgrass 40 hours per week regardless, even including days he did not work.  Snodgrass never requested overtime pay during his employment.

After Snodgrass had worked at AHA for about ten years, AHA provided him with a company vehicle which was equipped with a GPS tracking system.  Snodgrass was aware of the GPS but did not realize AHA was using the device to track his working hours.  AHA later fired Snodgrass after the GPS monitor on his company vehicle indicated he would frequently travel to dead end streets and vacant lots where AHA had no business dealings.

Snodgrass sued AHA in the Shelby County, Tennessee Circuit Court, claiming that AHA violated his right to overtime pay under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The circuit court judge found that Snodgrass was not entitled to relief and dismissed the claim.  Snodgrass appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals which reversed the circuit court’s decision, finding that the circuit court judge had placed too high of a burden on Snodgrass to prove his overtime claim.  The court of appeals sent the case back to the circuit court where a much less stringent burden of proof was to be applied for Snodgrass.

Relying on U.S. Supreme Court and federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals precedent, the Tennessee Court of Appeals made several points which should be strong warnings to employers in Tennessee and elsewhere who are lackadaisical about keeping accurate time records for non-exempt employees, or who expect their non-exempt employees to be responsible for keeping accurate records of their work time:

  1. The FLSA places the burden of proper time keeping squarely on the employer.
  2.  The employee has a relaxed burden of proof of hours worked because employees rarely keep work records, which is the employer’s duty under the FLSA.  It is sufficient for the employee to testify to the amount of work performed “as a matter of just and reasonable inference.”  Once the employee does so, “the burden then shifts to the employer to come forward with evidence of the precise amount of work performed or with evidence to negative the reasonableness of the inference to be drawn from the employee’s evidence.”  If the employer fails to do so, the court may award damages to the employee “even though the result may be only approximate.”
  3. The employee’s failure to request overtime pay during employment does not defeat the employee’s later overtime lawsuit.
  4. Even if the employee is careless in clocking in and out, or even refuses to do so, the FLSA places the burden of proper time keeping squarely on the employer, not on the employee.

If you’re a Tennessee employer facing an issue related to employees’ eligibility for overtime pay or a claim for alleged unpaid overtime pay, obtain professional and thorough legal assistance by contacting the Law Offices of Cary Schwimmer for a consultation, at 901-753-5537.

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