The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is preparing to crack down on employers that stiff workers out of overtime pay—and now it’s hired extra staff to find and punish employers that break the law.
On Nov. 30, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis announced that the WHD had completed hiring 250 new wage-and-hour investigators. The WHD is charged with enforcing laws governing overtime pay, minimum wages and other pay practices.
Calling wage-and-hour enforcement a top DOL priority, Solis said employers can "expect prompt attention being paid” to employee complaints that they haven’t been paid for overtime work. The new hires increase by a third the number of investigators looking into wage-and-hour violations.
The WHD crackdown comes on the heels of a scathing Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found that the division in the past routinely failed to investigate alleged employer wrongdoing or even return phone calls from employees who complain they aren’t being properly paid.
The GAO report, issued in March 2009, found that the division mishandled nine of the 10 cases brought by a team of undercover investigators posing as workers who believed they had been underpaid or cheated out of leave. GAO investigators found “thousands” of actual cases in which the WHD didn’t process, investigate or resolve complaints involving the Fair Labor Standards Act ( ), the and other laws affecting pay, hours worked and leave.
At the time, Solis blamed lax WHD enforcement on “a loss of experienced personnel over the last several years.”
It appears the DOL won't let up on wage-and-hour enforcement anytime soon. It's about to begin actively promoting its efforts to workers.
"In early 2010, the department will launch a national public awareness campaign titled "We Can Help" to inform workers about their rights," Solis said. "The department will work closely with advocacy groups and other stakeholders to ensure that the materials developed for the campaign reach the workers who need them. We will not rest until the law is followed by every employer, and each worker is treated and compensated fairly."
So in addition to a new cadre of WHD investigators, the DOL is counting on your employees to turn you in if you violate.