State Wage-And-Hour Law Can Be More Generous Than FLSA

A group of police officers sued the City of Richmond, Virginia Police Department, alleging violations of both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Virginia’s state wage and hour law. Police officers employed by the City are generally scheduled to work 80 hours within any given 14-day work period. The City’s policy has been to pay officers at their straight-time rate for all hours up to 86 per cycle, and only to pay overtime when officers work more than 86 hours in the 14-day period.

The City asked a federal court to dismiss the lawsuit. The City contended that since Section 7(k) of the FLSA allows the City to establish a 14-day work period with an 86-hour overtime threshold, the officers’ state law claims were “preempted” by the FLSA.

The Court ruled against the City, finding that “two settled principles of preemption jurisprudence guide this Court’s analysis. First, the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in every pre-emption case. Second, the Court begins with a strong presumption that Congress did not intend to override the power of the State to provide for the welfare of its people, especially in a field traditionally occupied by the States, such as labor law.

“It is well settled that, under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes can nullify conflicting state or local actions. Federal law preempts state law if (1) Congress expressly so states, (2) Congress enacts comprehensive laws that leave no room for supplementary state regulation, or (3) state law actually conflicts with federal law. In this case, the City contends that the Virginia Law stands in direct and positive conflict with the FLSA. To satisfy its burden, the City must demonstrate that compliance with both the FLSA and the Virginia laws is a physical impossibility, or that the state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. The City has failed to make either such showing here

“First, the FLSA and Virginia Law do not conflict. Rather, the two can – and by definition, must – operate in tandem: Where the state law’s protections end, the federal law’s protections begin. The state statute at issue provides that employers must pay law enforcement employees overtime for all hours between the FLSA’s Section 7(k) threshold ‘and the hours for which an employee receives his salary, or if paid on an hourly basis, the hours for which the employee receives hourly compensation.’ Thus, the Virginia Law deals solely with the gap, if any, between an employee’s regular schedule of employment and the 86-hour federal overtime trigger established by Section 207(k). Simply put, an employee who works more than his normal hours, but less than the FLSA maximum, is entitled to overtime wages under state, but not federal, law.

“Moreover, the more generous overtime policy embedded in the Virginia Law falls squarely within the ‘savings clause’ of the FLSA, which states that ‘No provision of this Act or of any order thereunder shall excuse noncompliance with any State law establishing a minimum wage higher than the minimum wage established under this Act or a maximum workweek lower than the maximum workweek established under this Act.’ This provision expressly allows states to provide workers with more beneficial minimum wages and maximum workweeks than those mandated by the FLSA itself. The FLSA thus does not conflict with a state law merely because the latter provides more rigorous protections or greater benefits to employees. To the contrary, the FLSA preempts only those state laws which attempt to limit the Act’s employee benefits by mandating lower minimum wages or longer maximum workweeks.”

Rogers v. City of Richmond, Va., 851 F. Supp. 2d 983 (E.D. Va. 2012).