Wage & Hour Laws -- Employee
Many employees are protected by federal laws which mandate a minimum wage, overtime pay and fair pay that is free from discrimination. Employees can contact the government agencies responsible for investigating allegations of noncompliance with these laws or they can file lawsuits against their employers if they believe that any of these laws were violated. Since agencies play an important part in the enforcement of these laws, employers should be familiar with the agencies' procedures for investigating allegations of noncompliance.
The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is the agency responsible for investigating alleged violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other federal wage and hour laws. An employee may contact the Wage and Hour division if, for example, the employee alleges that he was not paid the required minimum wage or was not paid mandatory overtime pay. If the Wage and Hour Division determines that the allegations are within its jurisdiction and if true constitute a violation of the law then employers will be contacted by an investigator. The investigator could request to examine documents (such as payroll records or time sheets) and interview the employer or employees relevant to the claim. If a violation is found to have occurred then back pay may be awarded to the employee and the employer may be required to change its practices to prevent future violations.
While the Wage and Hour Division serves an important function, it is important to note that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued an important report concerning the agency in March 2009. The GAO conducted a thorough investigation of the Wage and Hour Division's practices and found that, "WHD frequently responded inadequately to complaints, leaving low wage workers vulnerable to wage theft." The investigation was reported to the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor so that appropriate action could be taken.
Employers should also be aware that claims can be filed against them alleging pay discrimination. At the administrative level, these claims are handled by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). When the EEOC is informed of an alleged pay discrimination matter over which it has jurisdiction then the EEOC will investigate the claims. The investigation may include a document review and interviews. The EEOC can conduct mediation if both parties agree to it or it can issue the results of its investigation. If no violation is found then the matter is closed. However, if the EEOC does find that a violation of law occurred then it can order the employer to pay back pay, attorneys fees and other costs. The EEOC can also require the employer to change its discriminatory policies and provide evidence of those changes to the commission so that future problems of discriminatory pay can be avoided.
Employees also have the right to file lawsuits against employers for alleged violations of the federal pay laws. The statutes of limitations vary and may, in part, depend on whether or not agency investigations were conducted and rulings were issued.
Pay is central the agreement between employer and employee. It is, therefore, important for employees and employers to be aware of the federal agency investigation procedures and the legal options available to employees to remedy allegations of unpaid wages or discriminatory pay.