Employers should make reviewing and tightening their worker classification and pay practices a high priority in light of the continuing aggressive investigation and enforcement of minimum wage, overtime and other federal pay law violations by the U.S. Department of Labor (Labor Department) Wage and Hour Division (W&HD).
Latest Enforcement Shows Commitment
The Labor Department’s strong commitment to the investigation and enforcement of federal wage and hour law violations is reflected in its announcement of yet another wave of successful enforcement actions against a wide range of employers during December including the following:
Car Wash Employees Receive Back Wages. Labor Department officials say Genter’s Detailing Inc. in Frisco, Texas, has paid 53 detail and car wash employees $22,345, following a W&HD investigation that found the employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by making illegal deductions from employees’ wages for damages to dealership vehicles, resulting in wages below the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. The company provides car wash and detailing services to car dealerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, in Katy and in Austin. More Details Here.
Oklahoma Electrical Services Company Pays Back Wages. Labor Department officials report Lighthouse Electric Inc. in Tulsa, Okla., has paid $42,452 in overtime back wages to 18 current and former electricians following an investigation that found Lighthouse Electric improperly failed to pay employees for time spent traveling to and from their facility to a work site in violation of the FLSA. More Details Here.
Web-based Auto Company Violated FLSA. Labor Department Officials report Auto Cricket Corp., doing business as AutoCricket.com, has agreed to pay $76,589 in back wages to 414 employees following a W&HD investigation that found the company deducted short rest periods as non-work hours from employee totals of hours worked in violation of the FLSA. Additionally, the company paid overtime for hours worked beyond 80 during a biweekly pay period, instead of time and one-half for all hours worked over 40 in a seven-day workweek. More Details Here.
South Carolina Restaurants Pay $391,000 in Back Wages. Labor Department officials report that three San Jose Mexican restaurants, individually owned and operated by Eraclio Leon, Gregorio Leon Sr. and Antonio Leon, have agreed to pay $390,960 in back wages to 37 employees after the W&HD found the South Carolina businesses violated the FLSA by failing to properly compensate employees for all work hours. Investigators determined that tipped employees, such as servers, were paid direct wages below $2.13 per hour and kitchen staff were paid flat salaries each month. More Details Here.
San Francisco Grocer to Pay Back Wages to 25 Workers. The Labor Department announced a U.S. District Court has ordered Casa Guadalupe to pay $110,071 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to 25 current and former employees at its three San Francisco stores. The Labor Department also assessed $11,687 in civil penalties against the employer because of the willful and repeat nature of the violations. The grocery store chain admitted not paying required overtime wages. Investigators found similar violations in 2010 that resulted in $6,496 in overtime back wages due to three workers. More Details Here.
Environment Services Company Pays Back Wages To Misclassified Environmental Scientists. The Labor Department also announced that Groundwater and Environmental Services Inc., doing business as GES, will pay $187,165 in back wages to 69 employees after the W&HD found FLSA violations resulting from the company’s misclassification of junior environmental scientists and junior baseline samplers as exempt from overtime pay. The company collects water samples from property owners in close proximity to oil and gas well drilling sites for baseline sampling surveys. The investigation was part of a Wage and Hour Division’s multiyear enforcement initiative focused on the oil and gas industry. More Details Here.
Oklahoma Manufacturer Pays $85,000 for Overtime. Labor Department officials announced Deerebuilt LLC in Ardmore, Okla., has paid $85,105 in overtime back wages to 112 current and former employees following a W&HD investigation that found that the employer paid “straight time” for all hours worked, failing to pay overtime at time and one-half employees’ regular rates of pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, as required by the FLSA. The employer paid employees for overtime hours worked on weekends with separate checks, at straight-time rates. More Details Here.
Oklahoma City Company Faulted for FLSA & Davis-Bacon Violations. The Labor Department announced that Mallett Plumbing and Utility Co. in Oklahoma City has paid $100,264 in back wages to 19 current and former plumbers after an investigation found violations of the FLSA and the Davis-Bacon Act. The W&HD says the company failed to pay workers for overtime and failed to pay prevailing wage rates and fringe benefits. A W&HD investigation found Mallett Plumbing and Utility paid straight time for all hours worked and failed to pay employees the required wages and fringe benefits applicable to the classifications of work they performed while working on building alterations and construction projects for the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration. More Details Here.
The Christmas Light Co. Inc. According to the Labor Department, an investigation by its Dallas Wage and Hour Division office found that The Christmas Light Co. Inc. violated the FLSA by failing to pay 233 installers and removers the minimum and overtime wages and keep records required by law. The complaint filed in the Northern District of Texas seeks back wages and liquidated damages of nearly $500,000 and an injunction against future violations of the FLSA.
FLSA Violations Generally Costly; Enforcement Rising
The enforcement record of the Labor Department confirms that the Labor Department’s suit against the Christmas Light Co. Inc. lawsuit is reflective of a strong enforcement commitment targeting U.S. employers using aggressive worker classification or other pay practices to avoid paying minimum wage or overtime to workers. Under the Obama Administration, DOL officials have made it a priority to enforce overtime, record keeping, worker classification and other wage and hour law requirements. See e.g., Boston Furs Sued For $1M For Violations Of Fair Labor Standards Act; Record $2.3 Millh ion+ Backpay Order; Minimum Wage, Overtime Risks Highlighted By Labor Department Strike Force Targeting Residential Care & Group Homes; Review & Strengthen Defensibility of Existing Worker Classification Practices In Light of Rising Congressional & Regulatory Scrutiny; 250 New Investigators, Renewed DOL Enforcement Emphasis Signal Rising Wage & Hour Risks For Employers; Quest Diagnostics, Inc. To Pay $688,000 In Overtime Backpay. In an effort to further promote compliance and enforcement of these rules, the Labor Department is using smart phone applications, social media and a host of other new tools to educate and recruit workers in its effort to find and prosecute violators. See, e.g. New Employee Smart Phone App New Tool In Labor Department’s Aggressive Wage & Hour Law Enforcement Campaign Against Restaurant & Other Employers. As a result of these effort, employers violating the FLSA now face heightened risk of enforcement from both the Labor Department and private litigation.
Employers Should Strengthen Practices For Defensibility
To minimize exposure under the FLSA, employers should review and document the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws and take other actions to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws. Steps advisable as part of this process include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Audit of each position current classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying that characterization;
- Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
- Review the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
- Review existing practices for tracking compensable hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
- If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, self-initiate proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
- Review existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
- Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees;
- Consider advisability of tracking hours and activities of employees considered exempt;
- Evaluate and manage risks of outsourced labor such as leased, contract or other similar “off-payroll” workers;
- Re-engineerwork rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures; and
- Consider and properly coordinate worker classification for health and other employee benefit plan eligibility and other purposes to mitigate risks from unanticipated employee benefit liabilities resulting from misclassification.
Because of the potentially significant liability exposure, employers generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel before starting their risk assessment and assess risks and claims within the scope of attorney-client privilege to help protect the ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections to help shelter conversations or certain other sensitive risk activities from discovery under the rules of evidence.
For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs
If you need help in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, DOL, Justice Department, or other federal or state agencies or other private plaintiff or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification or other labor and employment, compliance, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872 .
Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit and management policies and practices. The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer often has worked, extensively on these and other workforce and performance related matters. She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.
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©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.