Employers need to be aware of a new tool in the plaintiff’s employment lawyer’s arsenal: the Florida Minimum Wage Law (FMWL).
Although Florida voters passed the law in 2004 as an amendment to Florida’s Constitution, codified at Article X, Section 24, Florida Constitution, it has been largely ignored by the plaintiff’s bar until recently. The legislative implementation of the constitutional provision is found at §448.110, Florida Statutes.
The FMWL affords significant advantages to plaintiffs over its federal counterpart, the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the existing federal law, employees may sue employers for two years unpaid wages and in intentional cases may go back three years. The FMWL allows cases to go back 4 years and 5 years in intentional cases. Federal law requires plaintiffs to plead their cases as “collective actions” where other similar employees may “opt in” and be included in the suit. The FMWL specifically allows plaintiffs to file their cases as “class actions” where similarly situated employees are automatically included unless they “opt out”, a significant advantage for employees.
Finally, under The federal law damages are not automatically doubled if the employer acted in good faith. The FMWL requires that damages be automatically doubled regardless of the good faith of the employer.
The FMWL provides significant advantages to employees and increases the potential exposure of employers. With plaintiffs’ lawyers advertising and actively seeking these types of cases, we expect to see an increase in cases filed under the Florida Statute. The best protection employers can have against these suits to be sure that their employees are accurately classified as exempt or non-exempt and to keep accurate time records of all non-exempt employees.