During a Congressional hearing on March 6th, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta unveiled a six-month pilot program intended to encourage employers to self-audit and self-report accidental violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Under the program, called Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID), the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor will attempt to facilitate settlement agreements between employers who self-report and affected employees. Employers who qualify for PAID and agree to pay back wages due will not be subject to liquidated damages or civil penalties and attorneys’ fees (all of which an employee could get if he or she files a lawsuit) under the FLSA. Affected employees will have the right to choose whether to accept back payment in exchange for a release of claims.
There are several open questions about PAID that employers should keep in mind at this time. First, what effect, if any, will an employer’s participation in PAID have on potential claims under applicable state and local law, even if a settlement is reached? Second, will employees apprised of potential violations by WHD be inclined to accept a settlement agreement that does not include liquidated damages or interest? Third, is there anything preventing such employees from using the information gleaned from a self-reporting employer to file a lawsuit? Fourth, will the information and data employers provide to the WHD be discoverable and deemed an admission in future lawsuits, especially by employees who choose not to participate? Finally, it is not clear whether and to what extent WHD will examine a self-reporting employer’s records for violations in addition to what is self-reported, and whether employers should open themselves up to that scrutiny.
All of these open issues will likely limit the amount of employers who voluntarily self-report wage and hour violations during the six-month pilot period. After PAID’s six-month pilot period is complete, the Labor Department will evaluate the program’s effectiveness and determine whether to continue with the program in its current form, make necessary changes or end the program entirely.