The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing some of the nation's most comprehensive federal worker protections, including:
- the federal minimum wage and overtime pay,
- child labor requirements,
- family and medical leave,
- migrant and seasonal farm worker protections,
- worker protections in nonimmigrant visa programs, and
- prevailing wages for government-funded service and construction contracts.
Collectively, these cover most private, state, and local government employment, and protect over 148 million workers in more than 10 million establishments nationwide.
WHD conducts investigations to determine compliance with applicable labor standards and requirements and is authorized to recover unpaid wages and liquidated damages for workers, impose civil money penalties, and seek injunctive relief. Wage and Hour investigations are conducted across a variety of industries including restaurants, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and the garment sector, which are historically vulnerable to labor exploitation.
While the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) does not give WHD the authority to investigate trafficking, the Division is uniquely positioned to detect potential human trafficking indicators during the normal course of investigations, to make referrals to other agencies, and to calculate restitution for victims when requested by the Department of Justice.
Investigators are trained to remain alert to any signs of possible human trafficking, exploitation or coercion, which may be physical or psychological, subtle or overt.
Red flags our investigators may encounter include confiscation of identification, withholding documents or pay, restriction of movement or communication, and threats of adverse legal consequences.
Investigators are trained to make note of the following indicators even though they are not, in and of themselves, determinants of trafficking:
- Restrictions on freedom of movement, close monitoring, surveillance cameras at the worksite or in employer-provided housing.
- Restrictions on communication, refusal to allow workers to speak with investigators or be interviewed in private.
- Statements or responses that appear coached.
Investigators are also trained to be alert to threats, real or implied, such as:
- Reported or witnessed threats of harm to victims, their families, or others.
- Threats of arrest or deportation, physical or sexual abuse, signs of restraint, or confinement.
When such conditions are detected, WHD may make a referral of suspected human trafficking to federal, state, and/or local law enforcement as agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),Offices of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. WHD also coordinates with law enforcement agencies to calculate restitution owed to victims of trafficking. Restitution may include unpaid wages or damages related to unjust enrichment of traffickers who profit from a victim&'s forced labor or commercial sex acts.
WHD participates in numerous local anti-trafficking coordination teams and human trafficking task forces around the country to combat human trafficking and assist victims.
When appropriate, WHD may certify U Visa or T Visa applications for victims of certain qualifying crimes, including trafficking, in connection with its workplace investigations. These efforts help victims receive immigration relief from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and access the range of victim services they need to rebuild their lives.