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On April 1, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced a new campaign aimed at enforcing federal wage and hour laws on behalf of low-wage and immigrant workers and warned employers, “A new sheriff is in town.”

The Department of Labor’s “We Can Help” campaign, is two-fold: (1) It intends to raise awareness of workers’ rights among “vulnerable” classes of workers; and (2) it adds 250 field investigators who will target employers in communities that have a history of labor problems.  The campaign will focus on violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and related federal rules governing minimum wages, overtime payments and hours worked.

These vulnerable classes include low-wage employees, immigrants (regardless of legal status), women in male dominated professions, young workers, subcontractors, and the disabled. The Department will target industries it believes are known for employing vulnerable workers including construction, apparel, manufacturing, restaurants, home health care, hotels and motels, janitorial, food service, and agriculture.

To inform workers of their rights and ways they can report violations to the Department, Solis said the Department will partner with labor and religious organizations across the nation to offer advice and steer workers to federal investigators. Solis said,

“[T]he campaign will inform workers of their rights and encourage them, regardless of their immigration status, to report violations of wage and hour laws on the job.”

The campaign will also involve public service announcements featuring prominent actors and activists, billboards, videos, internet-based resources, and a toll-free hotline. Information will be available in several languages including Spanish, Chinese, and Polish.

While this campaign intends to target certain categories of workers and employers, it will undoubtedly raise awareness of wage and hour laws among employees generally.  Thus, all employers should take note of the campaign and audit their compliance with wage and hour laws.  Depending on the situation, either the employer or an independent consultant can conduct the audit, but it is important to have legal counsel involved throughout this process.

A thorough audit will address time-keeping policies and procedures, recordkeeping, required workplace postings, and overtime pay requirements.

During a Department investigation, there are several points to keep in mind:

  • Get legal counsel involved.
  • Assuming the investigator wants to be fair and being responsive to the investigator will likely create a positive tone for the employer’s relationship with the investigator.
  • Be sure to gather basic information first: Ask the investigator for documentation proving they are an investigator; ask if a complaint was filed; and determine the scope of the investigation.
  • If an investigator seems unprofessional, have a third-party witness involved in interactions with the investigator and be sure to document those interactions soon after they occur.