Supreme Court Clarifies That Verbal Complaints Can Trigger Retaliation Protection

In a new ruling by the Supreme Court workers who complained to their superiors, even verbally, about the way they are paid now have strong retaliation protections that they can exercise. These protections can help them to be compensated if they are fired, or if their employer takes any other adverse employment action against him.

The ruling is significant because the Court clarified the meaning of the phrase "filed any complaint" as it is used in the retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the Supreme Court's new ruling, "filed any complaint" includes making a verbal complaint to supervisor, not in writing, and not a formal lawsuit.

Before this ruling, the common wisdom was that employee had to have documented in writing, either by way of formal complaint, or filing a Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit, to invoke the retaliation provisions of the FLSA. This new standard set by the Supreme Court gives workers substantially increased protection and more comfort to workers in deciding whether or not they should inform their supervisors about being paid properly.

Although the Supreme Court was clear that verbal complaint would trigger the Fair Labor Standards Act retaliation provisions, it is still important for workers to remember that an FLSA lawsuit or formal complaint either to their employer or the Department of Labor is still likely the best method of invoking the retaliation provisions.

However, if an employee only makes a verbal complaint he or she must still meet some standards. The Court stated "a complaint must be sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it, in light of both content and context, as an assertion of rights protected by the statute," Justice Breyer wrote. This is a key phrase in the holding so that employees know that in order to exercise their rights they still must follow some guidelines and any verbalization or complaint may not necessarily trigger the retaliation provisions.