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Unpaid travel time is wage theft, amicus briefs argue, and harms people of color, women, and immigrants

August 28, 2020

If your employer forced you to wait for up to two hours to ride a bus to and from a parking lot, but didn’t pay you for your travel time, wouldn’t you feel like your wages had been stolen? That is the question before the Court of Special Appeals in two cases, Amaya, et al. v. DGS Construction, LLC, et al. and Rojas, et al. v. F.R. General Contractors, Inc., et al. The employers required their workers (many of whom are Latinx) to ride a bus from a parking lot to a worksite 2.3 miles away and did not allow employees to park at the worksite. These employees were never paid for their travel time.

At issue in these cases is the application of the federal Portal-to-Portal Act (PPA) to state wage claims since Maryland’s General Assembly did not adopt it. Under both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Maryland wage laws, employees must be compensated for all hours worked. The PPA represents a narrow exception to whether the FLSA requires that workers be paid for certain work time before and after their principal work shift each day – in these cases, the lengthy required waiting and travel time between where the employers made workers park and the construction site at which they worked.

The workers sued under the Maryland Wage and Hour Law and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law. But the circuit court found that these Maryland laws should follow the FLSA as amended by the PPA. In August, the Public Justice Center and the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers’ Association (MWELA) filed an amicus brief in each case in support of the workers, who argued that the Court should not apply the federal PPA to state wage claims since the Maryland General Assembly did not adopt it. Our briefs show how engrafting the PPA onto Maryland wage laws would cheat Maryland workers out of significant wages and would sanction this pervasive form of wage theft (unpaid travel time) that disproportionately burdens people of color, women, and immigrants.

The August amicus briefs filed by PJC and MWELA in each of the two cases address the unintended consequences of engrafting the PPA onto Maryland lawWritten by Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Dena Robinson, the briefs address the pervasiveness of wage theft, the prevalence of wage theft in low-wage industries, the impact on the communities wage theft harms the most (women, people of color, and immigrants, particularly those who are undocumented), and the impact of wage theft on communities and local economies. The briefs also illuminate how employers often utilize wage theft – knowing exactly what they are doing by shortchanging employees – as a business model to cut their costs and gain unfair advantage over law-abiding competitors. We hope that these briefs will help preserve Maryland laws that enable workers to hold employers accountable for wage theft.