In a startling  move, the DOL (Department of Labor) recently announced it’s collaborating with the American Bar Association (ABA) to refer employees with unresolved FMLA or FLSA complaints to a toll-free number where they can get in contact with an ABA approved attorney in their local area to file a lawsuit. According to the Wall Street Journal “the partnership essentially helps plaintiffs’ attorneys hunt for clients … let the suing commence.”.

Considering that more than 6000 FLSA lawsuits were filed last year – up from ~ 1500 in the 1990s, this could be significant. Many employers who are faced with a lawsuit settle out of court, and with a median settlement of $7.4 million plaintiff’s attorneys stand to make a bundle for their efforts.

According to the DOL: “Although the Wage and Hour Division is able to help the vast majority of workers recover denied wages or lost jobs through conciliation, settlement, or, with the Solicitor of Labor, litigation, every year there are thousands of workers whose claims we cannot resolve because of limited capacity ….”[T]he Wage and Hour Division will now connect these workers to a local referral service that will, in turn, provide the workers with access to attorneys who may be able to help. This collaboration will both provide workers a better opportunity to seek redress for FLSA and FMLA violations and help level the playing field for employers who want to do the right thing.”

What can you do to protect your organization?

  1. Review your pay practices and policies to ensure you’re in compliance with the FLSA and FMLA requirements.
  2. Make sure your job descriptions are up to date
  3. Conduct an audit of your employment classifications (exempt and non-exempt and employee/contractor) to make sure your employees are classified correctly. If you find errors, make a good faith effort to correct those immediately.
  4. Train your supervisors, managers and payroll staff on the FLSA requirements and how to stay in compliance.
  5. Train managers how to stay compliant with FMLA – including the new changes for Active Duty Leave and Caregiver Leave.
  6. Implement or dust off your open door policy and communicate it to all employees
  7. Implement a complaint procedure so employees know how to resolve issues before they become major problems
  8. Develop a relationship with your employees so your employees come to you about problems instead of seeking outside assistance.

These new developments are concerning to say the least. It seems you’re innocent until proven guilty, except in business. Join us next week as we break down the subtleties of worker classifications (employee or contractor) to help you assess if your classifications can pass muster.