Comma Knows Best

Think payroll is all about numbers? Think again! Written policies and documentation are critical, and that includes the punctuation, too. Read what you write. Have someone else read what you wrote. Have legal counsel read it if it’s really important, especially if it describes when you will pay overtime premiums. Even commas can cost you big bucks if they are not placed properly.

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Commas matter, people...

Drivers for Oakhurst Dairy in Maine sued the company in a class action lawsuit over its failure to pay them overtime. The state of Maine follows the federal overtime law requiring 1.5 times the regular rate of pay for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek, but does specify the following activities to be exempt from overtime:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

  • Agricultural produce;
  • Meat and fish products; and
  • Perishable foods.

The drivers claimed that they were due overtime because, although they did engage in distributing perishable foods, they do not engage in packing them. Therefore, due to the lack of a comma separating “packing for shipment or distribution of perishable foods”, drivers fall outside this exemption and are due overtime.

Oakhurst Dairy claimed that the drivers were not due overtime because they fell under the exemption of the Maine law citing “distribution of perishable foods”. The Dairy contended that “packing for shipment of perishable foods” and “distribution of perishable foods” were two entirely separate exempt activities.

Maine Superior Court ruled that, because the Maine overtime law was so ambiguous due to the missing comma, the Oakhurst Dairy drivers were entitled to an estimated $10 million. If the law had been written with the exemption including the separating comma:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment, or distribution of:

  • Agricultural produce;
  • Meat and fish products; and
  • Perishable foods.

then Oakhurst Dairy would have had the favorable ruling.

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Systems Analyst Jack Carr, Fair-Rite Products Corp.

Once again, I think Optimum support for payroll and time attendance is terrific. I have no complaints at all. In fact, I daresay that, out of all the software that Fair-Rite products has that deals with support, Optimum has one of the best if not the best support.