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Jan
2015
7

DOL Wage Enforcer: Extent of Labor Violations in the U.S. is “Jaw Dropping”

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In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, the nation’s top wage-law enforcer, David Weil, said that “jaw dropping” labor violations demand tougher action.  Weil heads the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which is responsible for getting companies to abide by basic labor laws. 

He touched on employee misclassification and how it affects both his job and the American worker.  

There still are violations of our standard labor laws that are almost jaw-dropping. Sometimes companies violate the law because they don’t understand it. But there are companies out there that aren’t complying because they don’t want to or don’t feel they need to.

We see it a lot in the area of misclassification [of independent contractors]. The job descriptions and the duties and even the supervision don’t change, but the employer is simply finessing the definition. The implications of that [change in how a worker is categorized] are significant for a working person. Suddenly they lose benefits, access to overtime pay, vacation, and they’re responsible for the expenses related to their job. And the system loses tax revenue, both federal and state.

Prior to his job with the DOL Weil excelled in academia, where he coined the phrase “fissured workplace” to describe the practice of companies contracting out main parts of their workforce. This work became the focus of his razor thin Senate confirmation in April of 2014, as many Republicans argued against his belief that government should take an active role in enforcing labor laws. In the interview he further explained the concept”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with companies finding ways to create flexibility. The capital markets [want companies to be] very focused on core competencies.

But the question of who is responsible for adherence to labor standards gets murkier and murkier. The more levels [of subcontractor firms] there are, the more people are taking a piece of the margins along the way, and the tighter the margins get. As you go lower and lower [down this chain], the bulk of the costs tend to be labor. So if margins are tight and labor is just about the only [flexible expense] you have to play with, that’s where violations are likely to occur.

At the helm of the Wage and Hour Division Weil has allowed investigators to pursue violators rather than waiting for complaints from employees to hit the department’s desk.  Weil explained this change of protocol to the WSJ:

In the past, the vast majority of investigations were initiated by complaints. But we realized we’d never catch up to the problem. We’re trying now to get in front of the problems. We’re asking, ‘why are certain industries wired the way they are and how does that impact employment practices?’ How do we look at the whole industry to understand what’s driving [troubling employment] practices?

We’ve increased the number of investigators from about 735 at the beginning of 2009 to where we have about 1,000. About 50% of investigations arise from complaints and close to 50% are directed investigations based on where we see major problems arising.

The American workplace may be growing more complicated, but Weil says a basic principle can guide every employer-employee interaction: workers should “get paid for the work they do.”  

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One Comment on “DOL Wage Enforcer: Extent of Labor Violations in the U.S. is “Jaw Dropping””

  1. The trucking industry is a scandal. Many new drivers are literally homeless, so grateful for the work. We are not paid for on duty not driving work until hours go by. How is that legal? Our managers & planners go home every week, but we accumulate 1 day off. Often that day is a 34 hour rest so I can work another 70 hour week. Then there are owner operators….

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