Keep your eyes open for the Iowa Court of Appeals’ decision in Bernstein v. Bribriesco & Associates. Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to a few oral arguments before the Iowa Court of Appeals. The Bernstein case, in particular, caught my attention because of its employment law aspect.
What I gathered from the arguments was that Mr. Bernstein was terminated from his employment with Bribriesco & Associates. Apparently, he did not receive all the wages owed to him within in a timely manner, but did receive them at some point. Even though he received the wages, albeit untimely, he filed an action for liquidated damages (which are essentially a punishment for intentionally failing to pay wages) under section 91A, Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act.
The question to be considered by the Court is whether Mr. Bernstein is entitled to liquidated damages if he received all his wages prior to filing his action. I tend to agree with Mr. Bernstein’s interpretation that liquidated damages are calculated, in accordance with the statute, from the time of the violation and are not wiped out once an employer pays past due wages to an employee.
The public policy set forth in Chapter 91A is for employees to receive wages in a timely manner. Liquidated damages are available to an employee when an employer intentionally fails to pay wages. It is a deterrent to employers. Disagreeing with Mr. Bernstein’s argument eliminates the deterrent and creates a loophole for employers who intentionally withhold wages. An employer could withhold an employee’s wages and then, just before the employee files an action, write a check for all the wages and have no penalty. I think that defeats the purpose of Chapter 91A and the reason for liquidated damages.
It will be interesting to see if the Court of Appeals agrees.