Disney ordered to pay millions in back wages

- The United States Labor Department has ordered Walt Disney Co. to pay its Florida employees $3.8 million in back-wages.

The government said the company violated wage laws by deducting a "uniform and costume" expense from employees' paychecks, causing many workers to earn less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. An investigation also found poor record-keeping for hours worked, and employees were routinely expected to perform pre-shift and post-shift duties without compensation.

James Thompson, an employment attorney at Thompson Legal Center in Tampa, said he has resolved many similar employee issues in Tampa Bay.

"It happens all the time. It's a very common case," said Thompson. "If you look in the Tampa area, two out of three standard, small employers are doing the same thing."

Thompson said employees required to wear a uniform for work need to evaluate whether their time spent getting dressed qualifies for compensation.

"If you show up for work and you have to go change into special outfits, let's say it's a hazmat-type outfit or something. If you can't clock in until after you change, you're probably going to be affected by this. It's probably going to be compensable time," explained Thompson.

In a settlement reached Friday, 16,339 employees of Disney Vacation Club Management Corp. and the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts were due back wages, according to the Department of Labor. It averages to about $233 per employee.

Disney agreed to provide the back pay by July 31.

Thompson said if an employee feels they are not getting paid properly, there is often no need to go straight to a lawyer.

"I tell people to go to their employer first. Point it out to your employer. If they're not going to fix it, then [an attorney] will send something. I'll send a demand letter and try to get things resolved short of litigation," said Thompson.

Thompson said, by law, if someone pursues a case of unpaid wages, there is a cut-off for how many years of back pay they can collect. Typically two years is the most time someone can be compensated, unless it is proven that the employer knew he or she was violating the law.

If proven, an employee could possibly receive three years of back wages.

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