Department of Labor:

Case Studies from Ongoing Work Show Examples in Which Wage and Hour Division Did Not Adequately Pursue Labor Violations

GAO-08-973T: Published: Jul 15, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2008.

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Over 100 million workers are protected through the Department of Labor's (Labor) enforcement of labor laws. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) enforces provisions that ensure workers are paid at least the federal minimum wage and for overtime. The Act applies to businesses engaged in interstate commerce or ones with annual sales over $500,000. Conducting investigations based on worker complaints is WHD's priority. According to Labor, investigations range from comprehensive investigations to conciliations, which consist primarily of phone calls to a complainant's employer. This testimony highlights findings from GAO's ongoing investigation of WHD's process for investigating and resolving wage and hour complaints. Specifically this testimony will report on cases GAO has identified from ongoing work that show inadequate WHD investigations of complaints. To develop the case studies, GAO obtained and analyzed data from WHD for over 70,000 closed case files from fiscal years 2005 to 2007. GAO then reviewed WHD documents and obtained information from publicly available sources in order to determine facts about the employers that had complaints filed against them. The results of these cases cannot be projected to all 70,000 WHD cases. GAO plans to continue its work in this area to determine if identified case studies are indicators of more systematic problems in WHD.

GAO identified case studies that show WHD inadequately investigated complaints from low-wage and minimum wage workers alleging that employers failed to pay the federal minimum wage, required overtime, and failed to pay employees their last paychecks. Examples of inadequate WHD responses to complaints included instances where WHD inappropriately rejected complaints, failed to adequately investigate complaints, or neglected to investigate until it was too late. The investigations for these cases were inadequate for a variety of reasons. For example, investigators stated that some delays in investigating cases were caused by a backlog of complaints. In these cases by the time a complaint was assigned to an investigator, the statute of limitations for assessing back wages was close to expiring. In another instance an investigator stated that a thorough investigation was not performed because the complaint was filed anonymously. In addition, several investigators stated that because complaints were related to isolated issues, WHD did not normally perform a full investigation. Finally, for one last paycheck complaint, when asked about why a thorough investigation was not performed, the investigator simply stated it "was not a case."

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