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More Workers Filing Lawsuits To Claim Unpaid Overtime

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More workers are suing their employers for unpaid overtime pay. Companies have been squeezing more work out of their employees because with unemployment high, they can.
More workers are suing their employers for unpaid overtime pay. Companies have been squeezing more work out of their employees because with unemployment high, they can.

More workers are fighting back against their employers.

Workers filed 32 percent more lawsuits against their employers for unpaid overtime last year than in 2008, according to USA Today. The uptick in lawsuits may be a sign that the job market is starting to improve enough for workers to stand up to their employers, who squeezed more out of employees during the recession and recovery.

As companies laid off workers and postponed hiring plans during the recession, they sought to get by with fewer employees by forcing them to work longer hours, according to USA Today. With roughly four unemployed Americans for every job opening, companies likely have enough sway to force their employees to work harder.

But that is not entirely legal. All hourly workers are entitled to overtime pay for working longer than 40 hours per week, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Salaried workers that earn less than $455 per week also are entitled to overtime pay.

Having employees work longer hours is one of the many ways that companies have been squeezing more out of their workers. S&P 500 companies made an average $420,000 in revenue per employee in 2011: 11 percent more than in 2007, according to the Wall Street Journal. Corporate profits have continued to hit record highs, according to the Commerce Department. And the average size of firms keeps falling, according to the Labor Department.

Many employees have been working harder for effectively lower pay. Inflation-adjusted wages fell about 2 percent in 2011, and the percentage of workers reporting no wage change is at its highest level in 30 years, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

But workers may be starting to gain some leverage. More employees quit their jobs in February than in any month since November 2008, according to Labor Department data cited by the Wall Street Journal.

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