As many of us who use Facebook know, the grammar police are constantly posting memes about the proper use of commas. Recently the placing of a comma came into play which cause one employer to have to pay back wages for overtime. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has overturned a federal district court opinion and ruled that dairy company delivery drivers are eligible to receive overtime under Maine’s overtime laws. At issue was Maine Rev. State. Ann. §664(3)(F), which provides an exemption from overtime for those involved in the “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution” of perishable food. The drivers did not dispute that they handled perishable foods, but said that they do not engage in “packing” them, and therefore are eligible to receive overtime. The employer argued that the above provision actually refers to two distinct exempt activities (“packing for shipment,” and ”distribution”), and therefore the exemption from overtime applies to the drivers. The appellate court sided with the drivers. It said that the exemption would have applied to the drivers if the statute had read “packing for shipment, or distribution” rather than “packing for shipment or distribution.” Since the drivers did not pack items for either shipment or distribution, their activities did not come under the statutory exemption [O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, CA1, Dkt. No. 16-1901, 3/13/17].
So watch out for where the commas are placed if you want to avoid penalties!