In troubled economic times, employees are less likely to report violations of employment laws to state and federal officials out of concerns of losing their job. Employers often require workers to put in extra hours without compensation in what may or may not be a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The dilemma for workers pursing an action under the FLSA is that sections of this act are not always clearly defined and are open to interpretation. There are a number of workers that are exempted from the overtime pay requirement portions of the FLSA, and it's often difficult to determine specifically which workers are exempted.

Professionals, for example, are exempted from being paid for overtime hours, but employers and state or federal officials often define what a professional is differently. Courts would have to look at how much control the employee has in performing his or her job duties before such a determination can be definitively made.

Individuals exempted as administrators require even more analysis. An administrator must be engaged in the performance of "non-manual" labor that concerns "the management or general business operations" of the employer. Such individuals nevertheless must be able to use "independent judgment" as concerns "matters of significance."

In light of such definitions, one can immediately see why two different people might interpret whether one is or is not an administrator differently. And it's because of differences in interpretation that it's always good for an employee to have an attorney advocate on your side to make certain that such interpretations are not used in a manner that wrongfully deprives a worker from overtime pay.

We expect to see a continuation of such cases into the future until unemployment rates drop and workers no longer are in fear of being retaliated against by employers. Yet even in today's current economy, the policy behind statutes such as the FLSA is to protect the rights of workers.

New York workers have a right to air grievances without the fear of retribution.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Worker Wage-and-Hour Suits Rise in Difficult Labor Market," by Emily Grannis, August 15, 2012