Thursday, September 3, 2009

Study of American working conditions presents opportunity for employers to tune up legal compliance

Cars need routine maintenance: an oil change every 3,000 miles, an annual inspection of the systems, and more serious TLC every two or three years. Without this service, even the best made car will die long before its time. With this service, clunkers can run for hundreds of thousands of miles.

According to a survey conducted by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (as reported in the New York Times by as reported in the New York Times by Steven Greenhouse) many employers are not doing the routine maintenance that they should to keep their labor and employment compliance in tip top shape.

The survey of over 4,300 low-wage workers in Chicago, LA, and New York concluded:

  • 26% of employees reported being paid less than the minimum wage.
  • 76% of employee who work overtime reported not being paid the legally required overtime rate.
  • Of the 25% who claimed off the clock work, 70% reported it was unpaid.
  • 41% of employees who had money deducted from their pay reported illegal deductions.
  • Of the 20% of employees who reported making a complaint to management or trying to start a labor union, 43% experienced some form of retaliation.
  • 50% of employees who reported workplace injuries to their employer claimed some form of retaliation.
  • 68% experienced some pay-related violation.

You could dismiss this study as left-wing propaganda. I urge employers to pay attention to it for one important reason. In the Obama administration, the federal agencies that enforce workplace laws are ramping up enforcement to an unprecedented level:

What does all this mean for the average employer? There is a wonderful opportunity available to get your hands dirty in HR matters and figure out where the violations exist in your workplace before a federal agency or plaintiff comes knocking. I hope your workers weren’t among those surveyed, and I hope your workplace isn’t as bad as those included in the survey. However, every workplace needs a tune-up every now and then. Handbooks should be reviewed annually. Harassment and EEO training should be done at least every two years absent a need for more frequent training. A wage and hour audit should be completed once every two to three years. Your stance on retaliation (“Don’t do it”) should be reinforced at every opportunity.

I can’t say for certain that treating your workplace policies like your car will avoid lawsuits. But, some routine preventative maintenance will go a long way to ensuring better compliance and fewer problems.

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