We hear from a lot of businesses that they’re afraid of the Department of Labor (DOL). It’s understandable. After all, labor laws are complex. It’s all too easy to run afoul of the labor code.

Sometimes, business owners can be tripped up by what appears to be a simple request. For instance, what if your workers ask for the choice of taking “comp time” or getting paid for their overtime work? At first glance, it might seem like a great idea. Your employees enjoy more choices, and you could save some cash.

Unfortunately, if you allow overtime-eligible workers to take time off in lieu of overtime pay, you’re violating the law.

The Department of Labor can seem like a big, bad wolf to some business owners

Many other pitfalls await the unwary. Even well-intentioned business owners can find the big, bad “DOL wolf” knocking at their door.

A New Sheriff In Town

Back in 2009, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis declared, “There’s a new sheriff in town,” heralding a significant increase in the DOL’s enforcement efforts. They began by hiring over 250 additional field investigators for the Wage and Hour Division alone. Since then, the agency has launched several major initiatives:

We Can Help

In 2010, the DOL announced their “We Can Help” program. This program includes a website and public service announcements (PSAs) in both English and Spanish. It’s designed to educate low-income workers about their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). It also makes it easier for them to report violations.

Plan/Prevent/Protect

Also in 2010, the DOL announced “Plan/Prevent/Protect.” Each bureau and dvision that makes up the DOL will require employers to:

  • Create plans for ensuring they comply with applicable labor laws.
  • Put their plans into action.
  • Monitor and report on their results.

Access to Justice

In late 2010, the DOL announced a cooperative effort with the American Bar Association. This effort is part of the “Access to Justice” initiative spearheaded by the Department of Justice. Sometimes, the DOL can’t resolve a worker’s complaint because of limited capacity. Now, when that happens they’ll furnish the worker with a toll-free number to call for a referral to a qualified employment law attorney.

“There’s An App For That”

In May, 2011, the Wage and Hour division released DOL-Timesheet, a smartphone app giving employees an easy way to record their own work hours. In their announcement, the DOL noted they may use information from this app during a wage and hour investigation if the employer’s own records are inadequate.

Employee Misclassification Initiative

The DOL’s budget for FY2011 included $12.0 million to fund a multi-agency “Misclassification Initiative.” It’s designed to catch and punish businesses that misclassify employees as independent contractors. This initiative especially targets “industries with misclassification characteristics,” such as construction, child care, janitorial services and others.

Memorandum of Understanding: IRS, DOL and 11 States

On September 19, 2011 the DOL and the IRS signed a “Memorandum of Understanding,” pledging cooperation in their efforts to combat worker misclassification. Labor commissioners from the states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Utah and Washington also signed. Labor Secretary Solis announced the states of Hawaii, Illinois, Montana and New York are expected to sign, as well.

This memorandum of understanding allows the DOL, the IRS and the signing states to share information and coordinate enforcement efforts.

Your First Line of Defense

So, what can you do to protect yourself from increasingly active state and federal labor departments?

As it happens, one of your best defenses is a good time and attendance tracking system. A system to track your employee time helps reduce your risk in many ways. For instance:

  • Accurate time records enable you to calculate overtime pay correctly. When employees are confident their paychecks have been correctly calculated, they are happier and less likely to file complaints. A time and attendance system can help you avoid expensive and time-consuming wage and hour investigations.
  • By having employees clock in and out at lunch, you can document that everyone is taking legally-mandated rest periods or meal breaks. If there’s ever any question, you’ll have proof of your compliance with the law.
  • Even if you’ve done everything right, you’re still at risk of a wage and hour complaint or lawsuit filed by a disgruntled employee. Well-documented time records can help refute claims of massive unpaid overtime or other payroll irregularities.

To protect your business, install and use a reliable, accurate time and attendance system. If you already have an Acroprint time and attendance solution, make sure you’re using it to record work time for all employees… even your salaried workers.

If you need to upgrade your time tracking capabilities, Acroprint offers a variety of time recording options, ranging from classic heavy-duty punch clocks to AcroTime, our online time clock. We’ve specialized in time recording for over 40 years. We’re sure to have a time tracking solution that is suitable for your work environment and offers the features your organization needs. In addition, we carry a full line of accessories and supplies to keep your time recorder or software working smoothly and meeting your needs for years to come.

Don’t let the big, bad DOL wolf “huff and puff” and blow your business down. Make sure you’re accurately recording hours worked for all employees.

Contact Acroprint today for more information or to make a purchase.

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