Last week, the Department of Labor posted a new blog post from Wage and Hour Division Administrator Dr. David Weil highlighting the DOL’s wage and hour enforcement efforts. Dr. Weil’s statement that the DOL recovered “over $240 million owed to more than 270,000 workers nationwide in fiscal year 2014 alone” sent me digging in the DOL’s Online Enforcement Database and its statistical abstracts. While I object to the DOL including the specific company information in its database, the inclusion of such data provides fair warning to certain industries that the DOL receives more complaints, undertakes more investigations, and conducts more enforcement actions in those industries

Specifically to Dr. Weil’s post, WHD’s 2014 statistics show that a handful of what the WHD considers “low wage” industries are being targeted for FLSA enforcement actions by the agency. According to the FY2014 numbers:

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Shown another way, you can see that these nine industries alone account for nearly 1/3 of all of the back wages collected by DOL in Fiscal Year 2014:

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ld remind employers in those sectors that they remain a big target for DOL wage and hour enforcement. The DOL’s focus on low wage industry is nothing new. Some sectors have been on notice for the last few years, as the DOL’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2011-2016specifically identified agriculture, janitorial services, and hotels and motels as “high risk” industries, along with the construction industry.

These nine industries account for 1/3 of the total that DOL recovered, but we don’t know from the numbers what DOL sought but was unable to collect. Certainly, the DOL is targeting other industries, too. If you’re not on the list of nine industries above, you’re still not out of the woods.

So, what can you do to reduce your risk, whether you are in the group of industries or not? Remember that you cannot claim ignorance of the law. You must educate yourself and watch for common mistakes like these that are likely to attract the attention of the DOL or plaintiffs'’ lawyers:

Treating employees as independent contractors Splitting work among “teams” of employees (a particular issue in the janitorial and agricultural industries) Poor recordkeeping Untracked, uncompensated off the clock work Travel time Treating non-exempt employees as exempt

So, what can you do to reduce your risk, whether you are in the group of industries or not? Remember that you cannot claim ignorance of the law. You must educate yourself and watch for common mistakes like these that are likely to attract the attention of the DOL or plaintiffs'’ lawyers:

  1. Treating employees as independent contractors
  2. Splitting work among “teams” of employees (a particular issue in the janitorial and agricultural industries)
  3. Poor recordkeeping
  4. Untracked, uncompensated off the clock work
  5. Travel time
  6. Treating non-exempt employees as exempt

What can you do if your company might have some or all of these issues?

The good news is that recognizing a problem (or a potential problem) puts you far ahead of the game in avoiding a worst-case scenario—a DOL investigation or lawsuit. The key here is to be proactive and get some guidance early before a claim is filed. If you address the problem promptly, and correctly, you can avoid more painful and expensive problems that put you in the DOL’s database down the road.