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Pay & Leave Claim Decisions

Washington, DC

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Fair Labor Standards Act Decision
Under section 204(f) of title 29, United States Code

Sherrelle Octavia Coleman
Security Specialist (Personnel)
GG-080-12
U.S. Army Central Personnel Security
Clearance Facility
Department of the Army (DA)
Fort George G. Meade, Maryland
Additional monies for FLSA overtime pay
Granted in part
F-0080-12-11

Robert D. Hendler
Classification and Pay Claims
Program Manager
Agency Compliance and Evaluation
Merit System Accountability and Compliance

05/07/2015


Date

As provided in section 551.708 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), this decision is binding on all administrative, certifying, payroll, disbursing and accounting officials of agencies for which the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) administers the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  There is no right of further administrative appeal.  This decision is subject to discretionary review only under conditions and time limits specified in 5 CFR 551.708 (address provided in section 551.710).  The claimant has the right to bring action in the appropriate Federal court if dissatisfied with the decision. 

The agency is to compute the claimant’s overtime pay in accordance with instructions in this decision, and then pay the claimant the amount owed her.  If the claimant believes that the agency has incorrectly computed the amount owed her, she may file a new FLSA claim with this office.

Introduction 

On September 30, 2013, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Merit System Accountability and Compliance received a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claim dated September 23, 2013, from Ms. Sherrelle Octavia Coleman.  The claimant is currently employed in a Security Specialist (Personnel), GG‑080-12, position in the Adjudications Division, Consolidated Adjudications Facility (CAF), Department of Defense (DoD), at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.  CAF was established on May 3, 2012, by consolidating the personnel security functions and resources of the individual DoD components into a single organization.  The claimant was transferred from her corresponding position at DA to CAF effective December 16, 2012. 

Information provided by the claimant includes a memorandum dated September 10, 2013, stating CAF’s servicing human resources office had determined her position was erroneously coded as FLSA exempt, advised her that CAF employees who believed they received inaccurate overtime payment based on this determination could file a claim either with the organization employing them during the claim period before their reassignment to CAF (i.e., DA) or with OPM, and that any such claim must be filed within two years of receipt of the memorandum.  The claimant's FLSA status was corrected to FLSA nonexempt by CAF on August 16, 2013, retroactive to December 16, 2012.  In a May 14, 2014, email to OPM, CAF’s servicing human resources office certified it had made the claimant whole from the beginning of her employment with CAF forward.  This verifies the claimant’s statement in her claim request that on August 30, 2013, she received “retroactive overtime earnings back pay… for overtime worked 16 December 2012 until the error [in her FLSA exemption status] was corrected.”

The claimant requests “the remainder of [her] retroactive earnings from 1 March 2009 to 16 December 2012 at the FLSA “Nonexempt” rate as a nonsupervisory GG-11 and GS-12 positions [sic], plus interest based on [her] payroll records for overtime worked during this period."   

In reaching our FLSA decision, we have carefully considered all information furnished by the claimant and DA, including the agency administrative report (AAR) which we received onApril 11, 2014, and additional information we received subsequently to clarify the record from CAF.  We have accepted and decided this claim under section 4(f) of the FLSA of 1938, as amended, codified at section 204(f) of title 29, United States Code (U.S.C.).

Analysis

Period of the Claim

Section 551.702 of 5 CFR provides that all FLSA claims filed after June 30, 1994, are subject to a two-year statute of limitations (three years for willful violations).  The FLSA does not merely establish administrative guidelines; it specifically prescribes the time within which a claim must be received in order to be considered on its merits.  OPM does not have any authority to disregard the provisions of the FLSA, make exceptions to its provisions, or waive the limitations it imposes.  A claimant must submit a written claim to either the employing agency or to OPM in order to preserve the claim period.  The date the agency or OPM receives the claim is the date that determines the period of possible back pay entitlement. See 5 CFR 551.702(c).

The claimant states that "the command knew this error [her FLSA exemption status] was discovered by WHS/HRD [Washington Headquarters Services, Human Resources Directorate] at least in July 2013... but failed to notify us until 11 September 2013.  Thus, my preserved claim period should be at least back to July 2013 and not when you receive this claim."

The claimant’s arguments for preserving her claim prior to its receipt by OPM are contrary to the plain language of 5 CFR 551.702(c) and must be rejected.  The claimant did not indicate or provide documentation showing she had filed a claim with DA.  Since OPM received the claimant’s request on September 30, 2013, this date is appropriate for preserving the claim period.

Applicability of the FLSA

To determine whether the claimant is owed overtime pay under the FLSA, we must first determine whether the work performed is exempt or nonexempt from the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA.  The agency included in the AAR its report of findings concluding that the claimant’s work at DA in the GG-080-11 position (PD# ST92135) she occupied from March 1, 2009, to February 27, 2010, and the GG-080-12 position (PD# ST92136) she occupied from February 28, 2010, to December 15, 2012, was nonexempt from the provisions of the FLSA.  Based on careful review of the record, we concur with the agency’s determination.  The claimant is requesting compensation for work performed from March 1, 2009, to December 16, 2012, when the record shows she was properly classified as FLSA nonexempt.  Therefore, DA would have been required to compensate the claimant under the overtime pay provisions of Subpart E of Part 551 of 5 CFR for work performed within the statute of limitations.

Willful violation

The regulations governing the filing of an administrative claim (5 CFR § 551.702(c)) also state in pertinent part:  “If a claim for back pay (emphasis added) is established, the claimant will be entitled to pay for a period of up to 2 years (3 years for a willful violation) back from the date the claim was received.” 

Thus, the next issue normally examined in establishing the claim period is if it should be extended to three years based on if the agency’s actions met willful violation criteria.  Since the claimant questions whether her agency committed a willful violation, we have addressed the issue below. 

Under 5 CFR 551.104, “willful violation” is specifically defined as follows:

Willful violation means a violation in circumstances where the agency knew that its conduct was prohibited by the Act or showed reckless disregard of the requirements of the Act.  All of the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation are taken into account in determining whether a violation was willful.

Clearly, not all violations of the FLSA are willful as this term is defined in the regulations.  There is no question that DA and CAF erred in the exemption status of the claimant.  However, error alone does not reach the level of willful violation as defined in the regulations.  A finding of willful violation requires that either the agency knew its conduct was prohibited or showed reckless disregard of the requirements of the FLSA.  The regulation further instructs that the full circumstances surrounding the violation must be taken into account.

In addition to her assertion that the agency was aware of the previously described “error” in her FLSA exemption status determination “at least back to July 2013,” the claimant states:

The Army’s Human Resource Office did not correct this error [her FLSA exemption status] prior to my transfer to WHS.  I believe this was willful violation because the Army CCF was trying to save money during this time because so many Senior (GG-12) personnel were working mandatory and then later voluntary overtime… As human resource professionals, the personnel who processed our personnel actions/position description classifications should have known the requirements of the FLSA.

It is instructive to consider how the DA reacted when it discovered it had erroneously exempted the claimant from the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA.  The agency reviewed the FLSA exemption status as part of its response to our AAR request.  At the time, the agency was made aware of the result of an exemption determination decision issued by OPM on related Defense Security Service positions (OPM decision numbers F-0080-12-01 through 08, May 5, 2010).  As a result of the review, DA assembled payroll records and, in conversations with OPM, indicated it was ready to make whole the affected employees upon receipt of further guidance by OPM.

The claimant’s rationale as to why DA’s actions willfully violated the FLSA is speculative.  She has proffered no evidence to support her belief that willful violation should attach to her claim.  Her assertion that willful violation should attach since DA human resource staff “should have known the requirements of the FLSA” fails to meet the plain language of the previously quoted definition of “willful.” 

With regard to CAF, that the agency took it upon itself to conduct a review of the claimant’s exemption status as part of a routine audit and made the claimant financially whole for the entirety of her employment with CAF cannot be construed that their previous error was a willful violation of the Act. 

Based on all of the above, we find the agency erred in not properly determining the claimant’s FLSA exemption status.  However, technical error alone does not rise to the level of willful violation.  We find the agency acted in good faith by making a full and adequate inquiry once their attention was focused on the issue, and they took action to resolve the matter.  In doing so, the agency did not recklessly disregard the requirements of the FLSA.  Therefore, we find the agency’s actions do not meet the criteria for willful violation as defined in 5 CFR 551.104.  Consequently, because we received the claim on September 30, 2013, it is subject to a two-year statute of limitations commencing on September 30, 2011, and any time prior to that date falls outside the claim period.  

Part of the claim is time barred

The claimant’s request concerns overtime pay dating back to March 1, 2009.  The record shows the claimant preserved her claim with OPM on September 30, 2013.  Since we find the agency did not willfully violate the FLSA, the claimant is eligible for back pay two years prior to that date; i.e., September 30, 2011, and the period of the claim prior to September 30, 2011, is time barred.   

Decision

The record shows CAF made the claimant whole and that the claimant has received appropriate FLSA overtime pay from December 16, 2012, forward.  Therefore, the claimant is due FLSA overtime back pay and interest from DA for the period September 30, 2011, to December 15, 2012.  The period of the claim prior to September 30, 2011, is time barred and must be denied.

DA must reconstruct the claimant’s pay records for the period of the claim and compute back pay for FLSA overtime pay owed and any interest on the back pay, as required under 5 CFR 550.805 and 550.806, respectively.  If the claimant believes the agency incorrectly computed the amount, she may file a new FLSA claim with this office.

 

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