Before accepting a job, it is essential to review all policies provided to you by your potential employer, as these policies may not always be in your best interest. The following East Baton Rouge case demonstrates what may or may not be considered a “wage” payable at the end of employment.
Ely Boucher was terminated from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and was simultaneously provided with a copy of their Leave Policy. A provision to the Leave Policy stipulated that a certain amount of hours of paid-time-off leave were paid upon termination of employment. Subsequently, Boucher, who had over 914 paid-time-off leave hours, was paid for 300 hours per the policy provisions. Boucher then argued the Leave Policy violated La. R.S.23:631 and made a written demand on the Sheriff, for unpaid wages. When Boucher’s demand went unanswered, he filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff with the Nineteenth Judicial District Court.
Boucher filed a motion seeking to exclude the testimony of the EBR Sheriff’s Human Resource Director concerning her interpretation of the Leave Policy. He argued the document was the best evidence of its contents. He also argued that the testimony should be excluded based on the contract interpretation laws.
The Sheriff claimed the rules of contractual interpretation were not applicable in this matter. The Sheriff reasoned the personnel policy did not create a contractual right between the parties, and under the Louisiana Wage Payment Act, courts consider employer testimony when determining disputes on leave policies. The District Court denied the motion and found the Leave Policy did not violate Louisiana law. Boucher then filed an appeal with the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal.
In his appeal, Boucher contended the District Court erred in ruling the paid-time-off leave earned by him during his employment was a gratuity, not an earned wage. The Court of Appeal found any amount due under the terms of employment is referred to as wages that are earned during a pay period. See Boudreaux v. Hamilton Medical Group, Inc. Additionally, the Court of Appeal found the Leave Policy was clear when it stated that up to 300 hours would be paid upon termination of employment. Further, the Court of Appeal acknowledged the testimony stating the paid-time-off leave was a benefit for the employees and was additionally listed as the same on the conditional offer sheet given to prospective job applicants.
Based on these findings, the Court of Appeal held that Boucher was not entitled to any wages, penalties, or attorney fees under the law, and the findings of the District Court were not erroneous. As such, Boucher’s unused paid-time-off leave of over 300 hours was not an amount due under the terms of his employment, nor was it considered a wage payable upon termination of his employment.
As demonstrated by this case, it is crucial to thoroughly understand each policy provided to you by your employer, as these policies may determine what you are owed in the case of termination of employment. Additionally, it may be in your best interest to hire an attorney with ample experience in Louisiana employment law should you have any questions.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Samantha Calhoun
Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Unpaid Wages: Seeking Unpaid Wages in Louisiana: Clarifying Petition Requirements for Employees — Louisiana Personal Injury Lawyer Blog