Under the Fair
Labor Standards Act
The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (Wage and Hour)
enforces the FLSA for employees of private businesses and state and local
governments, and Federal employees of the Library of Congress, U.S. Postal
Service, Postal Rate Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The U. S.
Office of Personnel Management enforces the FLSA for other Federal employees,
and the U. S. Congress for congressional employees.
Wage and Hour's enforcement of the FLSA is done by investigators
stationed across the United States. As Wage and Hour's authorized
representatives, they conduct investigations and gather data on wages, hours
worked and other employment conditions or practices, in order to determine
compliance with the law. Where violations are found, investigators may
recommend changes in employment practices to bring an employer into compliance.
It is a violation of the FLSA to fire, or in any other manner,
discriminate against an employee for filing a complaint or for participating in
a legal proceeding under this law.
The Wage and Hour Division conducts investigations for a number of
reasons. Many investigations are initiated by complaints. All complaints are
confidential; the name of the complainant and the nature of the complaint are
not disclosed. The only exception is when it is necessary to reveal a
complainant's identity, with his or her permission, to pursue an allegation.
In addition to complaints, Wage and Hour selects certain types of
businesses or industries for investigations. Occasionally, a number of
businesses in a specific industry or geographic area will be examined. In
either situation, the objective is to assure compliance with the law in those
businesses, industries, or localities. Regardless of the reason for the
investigation, all investigations are conducted in accordance with established
policies and procedures.
An investigation consists of the following steps:
- A conference between the Wage and Hour representative and
representative(s) of the business, during which the Wage and Hour
representative will explain the investigation process.
- Examination of records to determine what laws or exemptions apply to
the business and its employees. These records include, for example, those
showing the annual dollar volume of the business, the manufacture, handling or
selling of goods moved in interstate commerce, and work on government
contracts. Information from an employer's records is not revealed to
- Examination of time and payroll records, note taking or making
transcriptions or photocopies of information essential to the
- Private interviews with certain employees. The purpose of these
interviews is to verify the time and payroll records, to identify a worker's
duties in sufficient detail to determine what exemptions, if any, apply and to
determine if young workers are legally employed. Interviews are normally
conducted on the employer's premises, but other arrangements may be made. In
some instances, present and former employees may be interviewed at their homes,
by phone or by a mail interview form.
- When all the fact-finding steps have been completed, the employer
and/or the employer's representative will be told whether violations have
occurred and, if so, what the violations are and how to correct them. If back
wages are owed, the employer will be asked to pay the back wages and the
employer may be asked to compute the amounts due.
Recovery of Back Wages
Listed below are methods which the FLSA provides for recovering unpaid
minimum and/or overtime wages:
- Wage and Hour may supervise payment of back wages.
- The Secretary of Labor may bring suit for back wages and an equal
amount as liquidated damages.
- An employee may file a private suit for back pay and an equal amount
as liquidated damages, plus attorney's fees and court costs.
- The Secretary of Labor may obtain an injunction to restrain any
person from violating the FLSA, including the unlawful withholding of proper
minimum wage and overtime pay.
An employee may not bring suit if he or she has been paid back wages
under the supervision of Wage and Hour or if the Secretary of Labor has already
filed suit to recover the wages.
A 2-year statute of limitations applies to the recovery of back pay,
except in the case of a willful violation, in which case a 3-year statute
applies. In other words, unless the violations are willful, back wages may only
be recovered within two years of when the violations occurred.
Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the minimum wage or
overtime pay requirements are subject to a civil money penalty
of up to $1,000 for each such violation.
Violators of the child labor provisions are subject to a civil
money penalty of up to $10,000 for each young worker who was employed
Willful violations of the FLSA may result in criminal
prosecution and the violator fined up to $10,000. A second conviction
may result in imprisonment.
"Hot Goods" Provision
The FLSA prohibits the shipment, offer for shipment, or sale in
interstate commerce, of any goods produced in violation of the minimum wage,
overtime pay, child labor or special minimum wage provisions. In the absence of
an employer voluntarily correcting the violations, the Wage and Hour Division
may seek to restrain the shipment of the goods (e.g., not allowing the
manufacturer to ship the goods to the wholesaler).
If you believe an employer has violated the FLSA, please continue
through the FLSA Advisor and review the information concerning exemptions,
recordkeeping and hours of work prior to contacting the nearest Wage and Hour
District Office. Please consult the FLSA Child Labor Advisor prior to
contacting the nearest Wage and Hour District Office for further information
concerning the child labor provisions of the FLSA.