Shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Obama administration's "Middle Class Task Force" announced a new program in which the U.S. Department of Labor will partner with the American Bar Association to refer complaints under the FMLA and federal wage and hour laws to private plaintiffs' attorneys. Here is an excerpt from the ABA's press release:
“The workers’ rights component will begin a first-of-its kind partnership between a federal agency — the Department of Labor — and the private bar, the ABA. In a typical year, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division receives more than 35,000 employment-related legal complaints. In order to ensure that as many workers as possible have access to legal assistance, the Department of Labor and the ABA are establishing an attorney-referral system. Workers will be referred to lawyers experienced in the Family and Medical Leave Act and Fair Labor Standards Act who will handle requests from workers nationwide through a network of state and local ABA-approved lawyer referral services.
“Our nation’s workers deserve full and fair compensation, and this Administration is committed to ensuring that they receive it,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Today’s announced collaboration with the ABA streamlines worker access to additional legal resources and builds on the Department of Labor’s continued efforts to ensure that employers comply with America’s labor laws.”
While this initiative will presumably benefit some middle-class workers, the obvious winners here are plaintiffs' lawyers. Employers, on the other hand, may be feeling left out of the holiday cheer. Our prescription: another glass of egg nog, followed by a careful review of your FMLA and wage and hour policies and practices for the new year.