The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has fired a loud warning shot to employers in its ongoing effort to increase federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) enforcement. In a news release late last year, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis first unveiled plans for a proposed program to work with advocacy groups and other stakeholders to inform workers of their labor rights. However, We Can Help, which was officially launched last week, represents a very active effort on the WHD’s part to reach out to employees for their help in cracking down on suspected wage violations.
The We Can Help website presents employees who think they aren’t “being paid right” with a nothing-to-lose wage complaint scenario, encouraging them to take advantage of a toll-free information hot line, complainant confidentiality, and protection for undocumented immigrant workers. Employers defending against the complaints, however, aren’t afforded similar luxuries and may face significant loss of time, money, and resources on the program’s effort to solicit (potentially frivolous) claims.
Especially troubling to employers is the program’s effort to team up with employee advocacy groups, including the AFL-CIO, to educate and inform employees of their rights. Planned initiatives by these groups aren’t limited to distributing literature and video material to employees but also expand to hosting public wage-rights forums, providing tips on suspected violators, and arranging meetings between workers and WHD staff. Randel Johnson, senior vice president of labor for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted that the program essentially “deputiz[es] people outside the government who may have their own agendas.”
Though special attention will be given to workers in those industries that historically have a high risk of wage violations — construction, janitorial work, hotel service, food service, and home health care — all employers subject to the FLSA should be wary of this outreach effort.
More details of the We Can Help program are available at www.dol.gov/wecanhelp/.
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