The Curious Case of the Million-Dollar Oxford Comma
In one of those situations that almost seems too bizarre to be true, the First Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals has handed down a 29-page judgment centered around the absence of a single Oxford comma. Yes, you read that right.
This opening, from Circuit Judge David Barron, reflects the almost comical circumstance that has seen the case brought before him.
On the surface, the case seems simple enough. Five delivery drivers for the Oakhurst Dairy company have filed suit for unpaid overtime wages. They argue that, as delivery drivers, they were not included in a list of exemptions to Maine’s overtime laws, and that therefore they should have been paid overtime by the company. The company is disputing this. However, this is where the lack of Oxford comma becomes problematic.
The wording in the statute takes the form of a list: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of” certain materials.
Any grammar fanatic can immediately see the problem there. Without the Oxford comma, the sentence can be read that only those who pack for either shipment or distribution of the materials are exempt to the law, and not those who actually distribute the items. However, if the Oxford comma is inserted between the words “shipment” and “or”, the sentence takes on an entirely new meaning: that the distribution of the material – that is, those doing the actual delivering – are included in the list of exemptions.
The absent comma means that the statute of law is immediately made ambiguous in its interpretation. This would be laughable if it did not also have serious ramifications. In this case, in the argument over the interpretation alone, we have seen both a hearing – where the judge ruled for the company – and an appeal, which was ruled in favour of the drivers. No less than four judges have been tied up in this case, and both parties have retained legal advice at an undoubtedly significant cost. The original suit was filed in May 2014, meaning that this dispute has been going on for nearly 3 years – and this is before the issue of the actual overtime is argued. The final settlement is yet to be decided, but it could cost the company nearly $1 million in unpaid overtime
A 3-year legal battle over the lack of an Oxford comma could see HR managers across the globe scrambling to check on their own processes, to ensure they have their own “t”s and “i”s properly crossed and dotted. And if just one missing comma can produce such a protracted argument, what other potential issues lie in wait, written into the laws of the country and waiting for a keen-eyed grammarian to point them out?
How does a little bit of overtime add up to $1,000,000?
- 6 years of underpayments (statute barred)
- 10 hours of overtime time per employee per week
- Approximately 80 Employees
- $4 underpayment for every hour of overtime worked (50% premium on $8 minimum wage)
- Total: $998,400
Tanda is workforce management software that manages overtime and labor law regulation so that businesses can get the most our of their workforce.
Awards & Rostering | read
Easter is coming! What you need to know about paying your staff
Easter is coming up soon, and that means two things! A new season of Game of Thrones to feast on, and – perhaps less excitingly – public holiday rates to pay staff. As a business owner, accountant, or bookkeeper, it’s important to be aware of how public holiday rates over Easter and ANZAC Day should be paid in your state. First, let’s see when the holidays will be in 2014. You might be surprised! If your business is open on any of these public holidays, you’ll need to pay staff the appropriate public holiday rates. You should check your award, which will tell you exactly what multiplier or penalties to apply, often under a Public Holidays section. A common multiplier is 2.5x. Some businesses pay staff salaries, or pay casually “above award”. Public holiday penalties still apply! If you have a contract, it should cover this – check with Fair Work if you are unsure. Staff who don’t work on a public holiday If you have full or part time staff who should have worked on any of the weekday public holidays – Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Easter Tuesday in specific cases – they are still entitled to pay, even if they do not work. Generally you’ll pay at base rate for the hours staff would have been entitled to. Of course, if staff do work on the day, you’ll pay at a higher rate as dictated by the award (see above). But keep in mind: this only applies if they usually work on that day. For example, a part timer in Queensland who generally works Tuesday to Thursday probably wouldn’t get paid the public holidays because there’s no public holiday on those weekdays. Check your award/agreement to be sure! If your award dictates how rostered days off work, you should check to see if staff with an RDO on a public holiday are still paid. In some states, some kinds of businesses are not permitted to open on public holidays due to trading regulations. If this applies, you will probably still be required to pay staff who would otherwise work on that weekday. Again, if you’re not sure, it’s best to ask. Staff who work on a day that isn’t a public holiday Keep in mind that the rest of the award doesn’t shut off just because it’s Easter. For example, if you are in Tasmania and pay Saturday rates, you’ll still need to pay these on Easter Saturday (which is not a public holiday for you). Tell me some more interesting facts about payroll around public hoildays Did you know… If an employee takes sick leave around a public holiday (eg. Thursday April 24 to Monday April 28), they still get paid the public holiday if they were otherwise supposed to work that day (ie. full/part time) If an employee takes annual leave, public holidays during the leave period don’t count towards their annual leave balance Public holidays do not need to be paid for staff on unpaid leave Staff cannot be forced to work on a public holiday if they have reasonable grounds for doing so. Common reasons include: the amount of notice given, family responsibilities (especially over Easter), and whether one could reasonably expect the business to be open on a public holiday. Tanda’s employee time clocks automatically interpret industry awards – including public holidays – so you can be sure you paid staff right, without tedious manually data entry Where can I get help? Add the Fair Work Infoline to your speed dial, they are always happy to help. The number to call for any payroll queries is 131 394. What’s your favourite easter treat? We’re impartial to Lindt chocolate bunnies. Yum. Note: none of the above constitutes formal payroll advice. Always check with your accountant, bookkeeper, or Fair Work.
Industry Insights | read
“Help! My employees are always late!”
Do you find in your business employees are constantly showing up for work late, or clocking off just a little bit too early for your liking? Tanda can help you keep track of your employees clock-ins and clock-outs. The SMS feature alerting you when people are late is also a handy Tanda tool to keep an eye on the hard workers and the not-so-hard workers in your team. But there’s one thing a Tanda Clock can’t do, and that’s motivate your team to show up on time to put in their best work. There’s a few key reasons staff start to dawdle on their way to work. One key factor is motivation. Once motivation drops in the office, kitchen or factory, the unproductive sentiment can spread like wild fire. You can help bring up your employees motivation levels with a few tips and tricks that the team here at Tanda has learned and implemented as well. Automation Firstly, automate what you can. If there is something an employee has to do that could be done just as easily with an add-on, application or new system then what are you waiting for? The same way Tanda automates payroll and rosters meaning less time wasted on the boring stuff, you can get rid of the boring tasks for your employees too. Rotation There are some things that have to happen around the workforce. But, if one employee has to carry out the same task or responsibility for more than three hours you will notice they might be getting bored. Try rostering them onto the same task for days or weeks on end and then ask yourself can you really blame them for being late all the time? Instead, it’s better to delegate and rotate tasks between your team. Productivy levels tend to spike at the beginning of a task, so if you can keep your team motivated with new or different things to do you’ll find less stragglers getting to work in the mornings. Optimization Which brings us to optimising how you use your time. Tanda knows a thing or two about time and attendance. Studies have shown people were more likely to be more cooperative and get work done in the morning. Throughout the day the peak in productivity comes unsurprisingly after lunch breaks. The worst times for positive results came just before lunch breaks and nearing the end of the shift. With that in mind, try and schedule the nitty gritty work, unpleasant tasks or least favourite jobs in the mornings and just after your staff have had a break to refresh. Save the fun stuff for the long hours and just before home time. Because really, if your staff are passionate about what they do for your company then there should be plenty of fun stuff for them to do.
Events & Media | read
Tanda Open Data Hackathon this weekend – 17th & 18th April
This article is about the 2015 event. Go to hack.tanda.co for 2016’s event details! The Tanda Open Data Hackathon is upon us! Programmers, designers and developers are flocking to Brisbane for Tanda’s first Open Data Hackathon. In a digital era where everything is reachable from the click of a button, it’s no surprise there are now marathons and competitions for the digitally oriented too. Hackathons, e-conferences and everything in between can be a great way to meet new faces in your industry and carve out your own opportunities in the workforce. You can come along as a lone wolf hunting down open data, or bring a pack of friends to brainstorm together. On the first night after pitches, that’s when you’ll have a chance to form your final teams and get ready to compete. Tanda’s Hackathon will be taking place over two locations. Day 1 will see us at our own Tanda HQ for meet’n’greet, drinks and pitches. Then, a fresh start (and a free breakfast) on Saturday morning will begin at Brisbane’s River City Labs. The great facilities at this space will hopefully give all attendants the comfort they need to execute a great pitch. It’s a Learning Experience The main drive of these types of events is that everyone should walk out feeling that learnt something. Whether it’s something a team partner has shown you while trying to create something awesome under pressure, or a competitor reveals a clever trick in their presentation. There’s no point to an idea if you don’t share it. It’s a Networking Opportunity Whether it’s the company hosting the Hackathon or a fellow competitor at the event these are the kind of industry events where you can actually stand out for future employees. Instead of selling yourself in an annoying verbal resume at some cocktail event you can show potential employers your skills in action. It’s a push in the Right Direction Not only will you meet new people, you will receive feedback from the two judges for Tanda’s Hackathon. The first judge will be Tanda’s very own Adam Lyons who spends his time all over Australia helping to implement savvy programs for growth in Australian businesses. Our Guest Judge for the Tanda Open Data Hackathon is Keran McKenzie. Keran has been on the scene helping take start-ups to sky heights for the past 20 years. He’s come up all the way from Melbourne to assess your ideas and test your skills. It’s a chance to help a Great Cause This Hackathon is a “Hack It Forward” kind of event. All proceeds made in this event will go back into student funding for IT, programming, and related student clubs at QUT and UQ. As a Start-Up company ourselves Tanda knows the ideas start with you guys – the students, the idealists, the dreamers and the young entrepreneurs.