A dispute over two hours overtime, if things go south for the employer, could average a million or more per unpaid hour.

Assume an employee claims he is entitled to two hours unpaid overtime. Assume he is wrong, and his time card was modified based on his error or deliberate falsification. He is fired for time card falsification, and sues his employer. The employer puts on no evidence, but makes a motion for the court to dismiss the suit after the employee has put on his best case. The trial court grants the motion, and the employee appeals.

The Court of Appeal reversed in these circumstances, restating the law that a bona fide complaint, informally and internally communicated, that overtime is due, can be the basis for a wrongful termination case if the employee can prove that the termination was motivated by his complaint for wages. The case is Barbosa v. IMPCO Techs., Inc. (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 1116.

The case for “wrongful termination in violation of public policy” is not just for the unpaid overtime. That is incidental to the real case for future wage loss and emotional damages, and punitive damages. A savvy plaintiff’s lawyer can emphasize the emotional loss component of the case, and suggest a conservative doubling of that amount as punitive damages.

This case was returned to the trial court by the Court of Appeal to decide if the employee was reasonable (even if mistaken) in believing he was entitled to the overtime. The verdict has not yet come in.