PPACA call center workers sue for overtime pay

Maybe the federal government’s decisions to set up a call center in Boise to help folks navigate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The good shepherds of Obamacare have been working with a private contractor, Maximus Inc., based in Reston, Va., to manage call centers for those seeking information about their insurance options under the act. One such center was located in Boise. Starting in October, troubles began to boil over at the center, located on a former Hewlett Packard manufacturing site.

Bitter complaints about Maximus management practices appeared on the online portal Ripoff Report in October. In a venomous, profanity-laden post on Oct. 13, the anonymous writer, a self-identified call center employee, accused the company of, among other things, forcing managers to work overtime without pay.

“Unfair labor practices are happening not only to all the online employees but, I'm hearing our supervisors and trainers are also having to put in 12-hour days and they are not being paid for it,” the writer asserted.

Perhaps there was something to the author’s hate-mail posting. Three months after the post, nine workers who are all either trainers or first-level supervisors responsible for preparing new Maximus staffers to answer calls from around the country relating to the act filed suit against their employer.

The nine alleged that they were forced to work overtime without pay, and were, until very recently, misclassified as managers when in fact they should have been hourly employees. (They were reclassified as such after complaining about their status.)

The plaintiffs said they don’t really know how much money they are owed since Maximus wouldn’t let them fill out accurate timesheets when they were “managing” people. So they asked for at least $5 million in their suit, filed in federal district court in Boise.

“An employer’s obligation to pay its employees overtime wages is more than a matter of private concern between the parties,” said Boise attorney Howard Belodoff, who filed the suit on behalf of the workers.

He added that “members of a modern, humane society are not simply indentured servants but are entitled to work a livable number of hours at a livable wage.”

The suit also alleges that, after the workers were reclassified, Maximus cut their wages and benefits and refused to pay them double damages for the lost overtime wages as required by federal law.

BusinessWeek reported that a Maximus call center employee in Texas sued the company last year after he’d been misclassified him as exempt and then wouldn’t pay him overtime. That case, BusinessWeek said, is in the process of being settled. The magazine also quoted Maximus as saying the firm hasn’t received the latest official complaint yet but ”we are already investigating the matter. Our company policy is to comply with all applicable labor laws.”

Meantime, it’s business as usual for Maximus, a billion-dollar public company with interests in health care and human services businesses. Even as the suit was being filed, the company was holding a jobs fair seeking to recruit 300 new customer service workers.

“The positions are full-time jobs with a three-to-five month commitment,” the job fair ad said. “They pay $11.17 an hour plus benefits. Employees will be trained and have opportunities for advancement.”

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