The lawsuits charge the drugmakers unlawfully characterize sales reps as â€œexemptâ€ under the Fair Labor Standards Act and other labor laws, depriving the reps of overtime pay. The lawsuits charge sales reps may have fancy titles, but work 60 to 70 hours a week, have little or no decision-making responsibility and their jobs should be covered by state and federal overtime laws.
The other drugmakers targeted include AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Hoffmann-La Roche, Novartis, Merck, Wyeth, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Schering-Plough and Sanofi Aventis.
â€œAlthough the companies claim that the representatives are salespersons and therefore not protected by overtime laws, with some exceptions, they actually donâ€™t sell anything,â€ says Charles Joseph, one of the lawyers.
â€œRather, they are tasked to influence the prescribing behaviors of doctors. Many employees in all industries are under the mistaken impression that being salaried means that they are not protected under the overtime laws. But a salaried employee is entitled to overtime unless they fit within one of the closely defined exceptions to the rule.â€
Beth Amendola of Coconut Creek, Florida, was at Bristol-Myers Squibb from 1998 until 2006, and won top regional sales awards five of the eight years she worked there. â€œWe would be in the field from 8 AM until 5 PM, and then have 3 to 4 hours of paperwork to complete at night. I was always at their beck and call. I felt like the Sorcerersâ€™ Apprentice where all the pails and buckets kept coming, no matter how much work I did. Overtime was mandatory; overtime pay was not an option.â€
The varios law firms involved in the litigation are working hard to solicit sales reps to join the lawsuits. They've set up a web site, Pharmaovertime.com, for instance, and toll-free numbers. Meanwhile, the lawyers say class certification was been granted in the case against Novartis.
The proposed classes in the combined lawsuits include tens of thousands of sales reps throughout the country. The plaintiffs are asking federal and state courts to order the drugmakers to provide overtime pay going forward to eligible employees as well as compensation and damages to current and former employees who were unfairly denied overtime in the past.