Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Department of Labor to step up enforcement; employers should step up self-audits

You may have noticed that I write a lot about wage and hour issues. I do so because it’s an issue that often gets even well-intentioned businesses into trouble. As if employers don’t already have it bad enough with the explosion of wage and hour class action litigation, this week brings us news that new Labor Secretary Hilda Solis promises to “reinvigorate the work” of the DOL’s Wage & Hour Division. Her quote comes in response to an investigation by the General Accounting Office, which reports that the Wage & Hour Division has mishandled hundreds of cases.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Steven Greenhouse reports:

The report pointed to a cavalier attitude by many Wage and Hour Division investigators, saying they often dropped cases when employers did not return calls and sometimes told complaining workers that they should file lawsuits, an often expensive and arduous process, especially for low-wage workers.

In light of the DOL’s planned stepped-up enforcement, employers must be extra vigilant in uncovering wage and hour violation in their own workplaces. A wage and hour audit feels like an unpleasant medical exam. The investigator is not necessarily limited to the alleged violation, and will turn your workplace upside-down, pouring through years of records and privately interviewing your employees. And, once you are on their 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.

For employers, the best advice I can give is to get out ahead of this issue. Take a hard look at all of your current wage and hour issues: employee classifications, meal and rest breaks, off-the-clock issues, and child any workers. Make sure you are 100% compliant with all state and federal wage and hour laws. If you are not sure, bring in an attorney to check for you. If you are ever investigated by the DOL or sued in a wage and hour case, it will be the best money your business has ever spent.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or