The New York Times published an article this week regarding two very critical reports from the Government Accountability Office discussing the poor performance of the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department. The reports accuse the division of mishandling many overtime and minimum-wage complaints, delaying investigating hundreds of cases for a year or more (in some cases dropping them because the statute of limitations was running), reducing the number of enforcement actions it takes each year, and ignoring low-wage industries where violations are most common.
Wage and hour cases in state and federal court, both individually and collectively, are still increasing. One reason is because businesses continue to violate wage and hour laws with great regularity. The other reason is because the state and federal agencies charges with enforcing the FLSA and state labor laws are doing a poor job of policing employers, forcing the aggrieved employees to seek their own remedies with private attorneys. The article, which can be found at this link, details some of the more surprising findings in the reports, including statistics showing that in the past ten years, the number of cases handled by the Wage and Hour Division declined 37%, and the number of investigators in the division went down 22% from 2001 to 2007.
One particularly egregious example from the report described a case in which:
a pool maintenance technician had complained about not receiving a final paycheck. The employer admitted that it did not issue that check, but then berated the wage investigator, saying it would not pay the back wages. Afterward, the investigator dropped the case.
The Labor Department defended its performance, saying that the “Wage and Hour Division is delivering pay for workers, not a payday for trial lawyers.” We would disagree. If the DOL was doing its job, wage and hour trial lawyers would be out of business. Not only would employees not need to hire their own lawyers to pursue claims, but eventually, strong enforcement would make it unprofitable for businesses to cheat employees out of their wages, and compliance would increase. Fortunately for us, we don't see that happening any time soon.