Friday, December 21, 2007

Department of Labor investigations highlight important wage and hour compliance issues

Today's Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the U.S. Department of Labor has found that housekeepers working in Ohio hotels are routinely underpaid. Indeed, in wage and hour audits conducted in 2007, the DOL reports that only 28% were in full compliance with federal wage and hour laws. As a result, it has promised "a 'significant' number of hotel investigations in 2008 and reinvestigations of some of the employers it already found in violation of wage requirements," according to the PD.

Speaking from experience, the DOL audits companies in one of three instances: randomly (which seldom happens), after receiving a complaint, or as part of a targeted initiative against a particular industry or class of businesses. These hotel investigations fall into the latter category.

If you find yourself being audited, the DOL will examine your wage and hour records for the past two years to ensure that all non-exempt employees have been paid at least minimum wage and overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40. It will also look at child labor issues if you employ any minors. The DOL may examine whether salaried employees are properly classified as exempt. Finally, it may interview employees to gather additional information. It will then make recommendations for changes, and try to reach a resolution as to any back overtime and wages. If the employer fails to cooperate, or is a repeat offender, it may request that the Solicitor General's office file an enforcement action in federal district court.

There is no way to prevent an audit from occurring, but you should self-audit your company's wage and hour practices to help get a clean bill of health if the DOL calls. Look at your personnel, payroll, and time records to make sure your are retaining everything the FLSA requires. Reevaluate positions and job descriptions for proper exemption classifications. It should go without saying that if you are not paying minimum wage, or overtime to non-exempt employees, start doing so immediately. With the new year quickly approaching, I'd like to see all businesses make a resolution to get their wage and hour practices in order during 2008.