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  • A federal jury in Oregon found Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, guilty of federal and state charges that it forced employees to work unpaid overtime between 1994 and 1999.

    A separate trial will be held to assess monetary damages against the $218 billion company.

    The suit was filed by more than 400 employees from 24 of Wal-Mart’s 27 oregon stores. It charged that the company got employees to work off the clock by asking them to clean up the store after they'd clocked out and by deleting hours from time records; it also charged that the company reprimanded employees who put in for overtime, and said that employees felt compelled to work after clocking out because the company assigned them more work than could be done in a reasonable work day.

    This suit is one of some 39 forced overtime suits filed against Wal-Mart across the country, according to the Associated Press , but was the first to come to trial. Earlier suits in Colorado and New Mexico had been settled.

    Wal-Mart’s defense was that while some forced unpaid overime had occurred, it was against company policy and isolated incidents. "I guess, basically, we are disappointed with the verdict. Wal-Mart has a strong policy of paying its associates for all the time they work," company spokesman Bill Wertz told the AP. "We would emphasize that this ruling affects only approximately 350 workers out of 15,000 in Oregon."

    Wertz said the company is considering whether to appeal.

KC's View:
By itself, this is just one chink in the Wal-Mart armor…and years of appeals could keep the verdict in limbo. However, it is hard to imagine that this verdict won’t have any impact on how Wal-Mart deals with the other lawsuits. It also is likely to embolden not just the people who have filed suits against Wal-Mart, but people who want to but haven’t.

It also is a little blood in the water, which might lure a shark-like mass media into examining this side of Wal-Mart’s business. (We can appreciate that; we’re part-shark ourselves.)

We know from past stories that we’ve run about this issue and the reactions that we’ve gotten from MNB users that there will be those who will believe that the plaintiffs were just people who didn’t want do a full day’s work and who were litigious and greedy.

But here’s our opinion. While we’re not personally familiar with the concept of overtime, we do believe that there is such a thing as fair pay for a fair day’s work. And that overtime is there for a reason. While we are willing to accept Wal-Mart’s defense that forced unpaid overtime is against company policy, the company now has to accept the fact that the pressure it puts on its managers and employees to achieve certain productivity goals may be creating scenarios in which managers break the rules and employees suffer.

It’s called taking responsibility.