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Increasing Number of Workers File Wage and Hour Complaints

According to a recent article by NBC News, an increasing number of workers believe that putting in time at work does not result in more financial benefit for them. Studies indicate there has recently been a spike in wage and hour violation claims by employees. The spike has several likely causes: the down economy, an increase in enforcement by government officials and a disregard on the part of employer's of overtime pay provisions.

So far this year a record has been broken for the number of suits filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law which governs wage and hour requirements. Thus far 7,064 cases have been filed, that's up from the 7,006 cases that were filed for the entirety of last year and drastically up from the 2,035 cases filed only a decade ago.

The increase in number of complaints has also resulted in an increase in the amount of damages collected by the Department of Labor's wage and hour division. The last fiscal year saw the agency raking in over $224 million in back wages from employers affecting more than 275,000 workers.

Though the increase in claims and compensation are a good thing, there's still much room for improvement. Legal experts agree that many workers still have a difficult time asserting their legal rights. Those employees who work for low wages are especially vulnerable and often do not make enough money to attract the interest of an attorney. It's precisely these instances that attract the DOL's attention. The agency typically handles between 125 and 150 cases each year, but lately has been stepping up its efforts to pursue litigation against employers breaking the law. The DOL has been agreeing to take on more cases affecting low-wage workers, migrant and seasonal laborers, workers with limited English language skills and those who are otherwise unaware of their legal rights.

The majority of wage and hour cases revolve around misclassification of employees, uncompensated work done off the clock and a miscalculation of overtime pay. One headline-grabbing case involved Wal-Mart's decision to pay nearly $5 million in back wages and damages to more than 4,500 employees who were misclassified as exempt from overtime pay. Though this was a big settlement, it was dwarfed by a 2008 deal where the retail giant agreed to pay $352 million to settle claims that it did not allow workers to take required meal and rest breaks.

The DOL has said that such misclassification issues will not be swept under the rug and will instead be receiving increased attention. When violations are discovered, the DOL says it will take action to remedy the problem. To avoid continued problems, federal and state laws should be clarified to make it obvious how to classify certain employees, taking the guesswork out of paying overtime.

Growing Number of Workers Complain about Being Shortchanged by Eve Tahmincioglu, published at Today.com, July 26, 2012.

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