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FedEx workers win legal victory in misclassification lawsuit

California workers may be interested in the legal success of one group of employees who are fighting court battles for past overtime pay. Thousands of employees are claiming that they were incorrectly classified by their former employer.

In employment law, a major issue that governs whether wage and hour laws apply to a worker is their status as either an employee or an independent contractor. An "employee" is entitled to minimum wage protection, overtime compensation and the ability to take leave from their job under the Family Medical Leave Act. This distinction is at issue in a series of lawsuits against delivery company FedEx in a reported 40 states, including California. FedEx's operating agreement contained language that classified their drivers as independent contractors. The former workers who are bringing the suits claim that they should have been classified as employees.

Many state courts hearing the suits have agreed with FedEx's arguments in favor of independent contractor status. On Aug. 27, however, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decided that the drivers should rightly be given protection as employees. This, they said, is due to the fact that the drivers are directed specifically where to deliver packages, what to wear and what vehicles to drive. This right of FedEx to control the way the driver performs their duties was enough for the court to rule in the drivers' favor.

While FedEx plans to appeal the decision, if upheld it will mean that the drivers would be entitled to overtime pay and other benefits under wage and hour laws. In situations like this, an attorney may be able to help assess a worker's case and bring the appropriate legal action. This could include an administrative action or a lawsuit.

Source: Reuters, "U.S. court clears FedEx Ground drivers to pursue wage, benefit claims", Amanda Becker, August 27, 2014

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