Generally, employee-related liability for US-based employees flows from domestic statutes (such as the FLSA) while liability for employing workers in other countries typically flows from that country’s body of law. In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit rejected an attempt by civil litigants who performed services overseas for a subsidiary of Firestone Natural Rubber Co. to hold the corporation liable under U.S. law. Flomo v. Firestone Natural Rubber Co., LLC, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 14179 (7th Cir. July 11, 2011).

The plaintiffs in Flomo were 23 Liberian children who alleged that their working conditions at a Liberian rubber plantation violated the 1789 federal Alien Tort Statute, which was enacted to hold accountable violators of “customary international law.” After first determining that a corporation could be held liable under this longstanding statute, the court went rejected plaintiffs’ claim on the basis that it was impossible to determine whether Firestone’s employment of the plaintiff children to work on the plantation improved or worsened their daily life and future outlook, when compared to other Liberian children not so employed.

While challenges to wage and other employment practices typically arise under the laws of the jurisdiction in which the services are provided, employers with international operations must evaluate all potential exposures arising from such employment.