So…we never thought we would see the day when we’d blog about Justin Bieber, but when we read he was being sued by his bodyguard for over $400,000 in unpaid wages and assault, we couldn’t resist. That’s right, not only did the Biebs** allegedly fail to pay his bodyguard overtime, the 5’7″ teen idol also allegedly roughed up his bodyguard during a confrontation last fall.
The bodyguard alleges he was mistakenly told he wasn’t entitled to receive overtime despite working 14 to 18 hour days for about a year and a half. That’s a lot of time protecting Bieber from the throngs of screaming fans and crazed paparazzi. In addition to unpaid overtime, the bodyguard also claims he’s owed vacation and other wage benefits, for a grand total of $421,261.
Our first thought (after laughing about the thought of JB assaulting a bodyguard) was that none of the typical FLSA exemptions would apply to a bodyguard. Then we thought more about coverage, etc., and decided it wasn’t quite that clear cut. Does the bodyguard have a valid claim? Let’s take a look at the Biebs’ legal woes.
Now, it’s important to note that the case is actually pending in California, which has its own wage statute. We don’t practice California law and know nothing about it, so perhaps there’s something in California’s law that applies here. Florida doesn’t have a state wage statute, so we just worry about the FLSA. Even under the FLSA, though, this situation brings up a host of issues, over and above the typical exemption issues.
Before we dive into the exemptions, we have to back up and look at whether Bieber and/or the bodyguard are even covered by the FLSA. This isn’t typically our starting point since it’s almost a foregone conclusion, but here it’s worth taking a look.
Is Bieber a covered employer? He’s just one singing, dancing teen sensation, not a corporate entity. And while the Biebs pulled in way more than $500,000 last year (a cool $60 million according to Forbes), he does not fit the typical definition of a covered enterprise.
Though there is more involved in this analysis, this post is already pretty long so we’re going to try to keep it short and simple. Let’s assume JB isn’t a covered employer. That doesn’t mean he’s off the hook. We have to review whether the bodyguard is covered on an individual basis.
Employees are typically covered by the FLSA if they are engaged in interstate commerce. We’re sure the bodyguard jetsetted all around the world with Bieber. We’re equally as sure the bodyguard would use “instrumentalities of commerce” like telephones and email. So, the short answer here is that the bodyguard would likely be covered individually.
Even if he wasn’t engaged in interstate commerce, the FLSA has individual coverage for domestic service. Sure, the bodyguard probably doesn’t want to be considered a “servant” in the typical sense, but if that’s his only shot at recovered $400k+ we’re guessing he can live with that label.
Alright, let’s assume either Bieber or the bodyguard are covered by the FLSA. Next, we have to figure out whether the bodyguard was exempt from overtime. Though the application of any FLSA exemption is never basic or clear cut, we think we could all agree the bodyguard wouldn’t fall under the three most common FLSA exemptions: administrative, executive, professional. Outside of a combination exemption, the only one that could maybe come close is the executive exemption, but that’s only if Biebs has a full-blown security team that could be considered a “customarily recognized department” of the Bieber enterprise and this bodyguard was the boss man of the security team.
What about the highly compensated worker exemption? We’re guessing by the amount of the claim that the bodyguard was paid quite well. Was it over $100,000? Assuming it was, we would need to look at this exemption. Alas, we think this fails too, since we’re sure most of the bodyguard’s type was spent actually body-guarding (that’s a real word, according to spell check!), which is manual, out-of-office work.
Whew. When we started typing we had no idea this would turn into a record-length post. We think that just illustrates how complex an FLSA case can be. This wasn’t intended to be a complete analysis of all potential issues, but based on what we’ve discussed here, we think Bieber could have a problem if the bodyguard’s allegations are true.
What do you think? Is the Biebs on the hook for unpaid overtime?
**Note: We had a pretty good time Googling*** all things Justin Bieber this morning, including the nickname “the Biebs” and the song title “As Long as You Love Me,” which we manipulated into the title of this post.
***That’s our story, and we’re stickin’ to it!