Three former Publix Super Markets employees have filed a federal lawsuit alleging the Lakeland-based grocer regularly forced them to work overtime — at stores and while at home — without pay.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the U.S. Middle District of Florida in Tampa and classified as a collective action. The three employees were all assistant managers and worked at stores in Tennessee, Georgia and Spring Hill.
The lawsuit was filed by Morgan & Morgan in Orlando and the Shavitz Law Group in Boca Raton. The firms are looking to include “similarly situated” employees who worked at Publix within the past three years to join the collective action. A collective action differs from a class action lawsuit in that a person must actively join the suit to benefit. While in a class action, a person has to opt-out of the suit.
“Our clients have experienced something many workers face as we all become reachable on our phones at any time of day or night — that companies expect employees to be in constant communication but fail to track this time worked,” the firms said in a statement.
“It’s unacceptable to force hourly workers to work outside of their shifts and to not pay workers for their time.”
In an email, a Publix spokesperson says that the company does not usually comment on pending litigation, "however, due to the nature of the claims involved we find it necessary to respond."
"As an associate-owned company, we are proud to provide our associates with a comprehensive benefits package – including company ownership — in addition to paying our associates in accordance with the law. We take these claims seriously and will respond appropriately."
According to the lawsuit, the three employees routinely found themselves walking the department with supervisors, cleaning, organizing, stocking and assisting customers before clocking in and out. They also say it was not uncommon to be interrupted during their breaks, responding to texts and phone calls from co-workers or supervisors, dealing with customers and finishing paperwork.
The lawsuit goes on to say that Publix was aware of what was happening and failed to either credit them or pay them for the hours spent working off the clock. It also alleges the company did not have a system in place to track time worked outside of stores and did not keep records that accurately reflected all of the hours they worked.
Publix, the lawsuit says, “knew or should have known that (the employees) worked unpaid time because (the employees’) managers and agents witnessed and permitted unpaid time worked … inside and outside Publix stores.”
The lawsuit does not give a dollar amount for what the plaintiffs are seeking in damages but asks the court to award back overtime pay, damages, “injunctive and equitable relief as this court shall deem just and proper” and attorneys fees and costs.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Publix.