Recovering Unpaid Wages Under Missouri Law

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage and overtime standards for covered employers and employees. Specifically, the FLSA establishes a federal minimum wage (currently $7.30 per hour) and requires that employees be paid one-and-one-half times their regular hourly rate for hours worked over forty per workweek. The FLSA does not, however, regulate claims that are not based on minimum wage or overtime violations. For example, an employee may work thirty-five hours in a single workweek but also perform three hours of work off the clock. While that work should be compensated, the employee cannot claim the protections of the FLSA. In these situations, a Missouri employee may bring a claim based on common law theories of breach of contract, quantum meruit, or unjust enrichment to recover unpaid wages.

Recently, employers have attempted to defend against these types of state law claims by arguing that they are preempted by the FLSA. But courts have made clear that these common law claims for recovering unpaid wages are not, in fact, preempted by the FLSA. The recent case of Byrd v. BJC Health System, d/b/a BJC Healthcare, among other cases, confirms this proposition. In that case, the plaintiff was a former medical transcriptionist for Missouri Baptist Hospital. To recover certain unpaid wages, the plaintiff sued her employer under the FLSA and also under common law theories of quantum meruit and unjust enrichment. The court concluded that the plaintiff's state common law claims were not preempted by the FLSA. In other words, those claims were still viable. The case made clear that the FLSA does not provide the exclusive remedy for wage and hour violations. As such, state law may provide relief where the FLSA does not. In other words, FLSA claims and common law claims for unpaid "gap time" or "straight time" wages (e.g., for off the clock time that did not amount to overtime hours over 40 hours in a single workweek) can co-exist because they are different claims that seek different types of remedies. Also, Missouri common law allows employees to recover wages for a five-year period running back in time from when suit is filed, whereas FLSA claims have only a two-year statute of limitations (three years in the event a "willful" violation can be established).

Despite the inapplicability of the FLSA to wage claims not relating to overtime or minimum wage, employees should be aware of the fact that Missouri state law may provide for a remedy not available under the FLSA. If you believe your employer has deprived you of fair wages or otherwise violated your employment rights in the workplace, you should contact a St. Louis employment lawyer.