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Working-conditions study presents compliance tune-up opportunity

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in Compensation and Benefits,Employment Law,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Cars need routine maintenance to sustain top performance: oil changes at regular mileage intervals, annual inspections, and more serious TLC every two or three years. Neglect that service, and even the best-made car will die long before its time. But with regular attention, even clunkers can run for hundreds of thousands of miles.

Workplaces have similar needs.

According to a September 2009 survey conducted by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, many employers are not doing the routine maintenance they should to keep their labor and employment compliance in tip-top shape.

It’s broken

The survey of more than 4,300 low-wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York found:

  • 26% of employees reported being paid less than the minimum wage.
  • 76% of employees who worked overtime reported not being paid the legally required overtime rate.
  • 25% of employees claimed they had been made to work off the clock—and of those, 70% reported they weren’t paid for the time they spent working off the clock.
  • 41% of employees who had money deducted from their pay reported illegal deductions.
  • 20% of employees reported making a complaint to management or trying to start a labor union—and of those, 43% experienced some form of retaliation.
  • 50% of employees who reported workplace injuries to their employer claimed some form of retaliation.
  • 68% of employees experienced some pay-related violation.

Why the survey matters

Some critics have called the survey left-wing propaganda. Employers, though, should pay attention to these findings for one important reason: In the Obama administration, the federal agencies that enforce workplace laws are ramping up enforcement to an unprecedented level. A few examples:

  • The Justice Department recently announced it would hire an additional 50 civil rights attorneys to focus on increased enforcement.
  • The Department of Labor is hiring 250 more investigators to step up enforcement through the Wage & Hour Division.
  • The EEOC has significantly ramped up its prosecution of equal employment opportunity violations. Just in the past few weeks, the EEOC’s Cleveland office has filed several lawsuits against Ohio employers.

What does all this mean for the average employer? There is a wonderful opportunity available to get your HR hands dirty and figure out where violations exist in your workplace before a federal agency or plaintiff comes knocking.

Indeed, in light of agency plans to step up enforcement, now is the time to be extra vigilant in uncovering violations in your workplace.

Not pleasant, but necessary

A government audit feels like an unpleasant medical exam. The investigator isn’t necessarily limited to looking at alleged violations it already knows about. Expect government staffers to turn your workplace upside down, poring through years of records and privately interviewing your employees.

And, once you’re on a compliance agency’s radar, it is hard to get off. In other words, they’ll be back to make sure you are staying on the path of all that is right and just.

Your best bet for getting ahead of compliance issues: Go looking for problems on your own—and fix them. You’ll find your organization will run better and longer.

There’s no guarantee that tuning up your workplace policies like you do your car will avoid lawsuits. But, some routine preventive maintenance will go a long way to ensuring better compliance and fewer problems.

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