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Bridge to Justice: Wage and Hour Division Connects Workers To New ABA-Approved Attorney Referral System

Wage and Hour Division Protocols for Referring FLSA and FMLA Cases

September 2014 Update: The ABA-Approved Attorney Referral System is now web-based. Where appropriate, complainants should be provided with an address for the web-based portal through which they can obtain contact information for participating ABA-approved providers in their area and/or a list of such providers. If complainants choose to visit the ABA web portal, they can complete an intake form that is sent to a local provider. Complainants without internet access can be given a copy of the approved ABA flyer which lists all the lawyer referral and information service (LRIS) providers participating in the ABA-Approved Attorney Referral System.

Many workers across the country still struggle to obtain basic employment protections under the nation's minimum wage, overtime, and family medical leave laws. When denied these protections, the workers are unable to fully contribute to their local communities and businesses Over the past two years, the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (Wage and Hour Division) has added 350 new investigators and stepped up its efforts to help these workers through both complaint-driven and targeted enforcement. In a typical year, approximately 25,000 workers contact the Wage and Hour Division for help, including the 23,000 who need assistance with their minimum wage, overtime, or family medical leave claims — and this number does not even include many more workers who do not contact us after their rights have been violated.

Although the Wage and Hour Division is able to help the vast majority of these 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. In recognition of the fact that the Wage and Hour Division cannot remedy every violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Congress provided workers the right to pursue their own private litigation (private right of action) under these laws.

In the past, for those workers it did not have the capacity to assist, the Wage and Hour Division simply informed the workers that, even though they may have valid claims under the FLSA or the FMLA, the Wage and Hour was declining to pursue their claims further and that they have a private right of action under the applicable statute. However, attempting to exercise rights on their own, or finding an attorney with the necessary experience and subject matter expertise to represent them, are significant and difficult obstacles to these workers obtaining justice. When it is difficult for workers to pursue redress for denied rights, it makes it easier for those employers who exploit their workers to obtain an unfair competitive advantage, which denies law-abiding employers a level playing field.

Thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between the Wage and Hour Division and the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service (ABA LRIS), the 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.

Beginning on December 13, 2010, when FLSA or FMLA complainants were informed that the Wage and Hour Division is declining to pursue their complaints, they were also given a toll-free number to contact the newly created ABA-Approved Attorney Referral System. If complainants chose to call the toll-free number, they were advised of the ABA-approved LRIS providers in their area. The complainant may then contact the provider and determine whether to retain a qualified private-sector lawyer.

This toll-free number will be replaced by a web based system beginning in September of 2014. Workers without access to the web can also be given a list of local ABA-approved LRIS programs without logging onto the web portal.

In addition, when the Wage and Hour Division has conducted an investigation, the complainant will now be provided information about the Wage and Hour Division's determination regarding violations at issue and back wages owed. This information will be given to the complainants in the same letter informing them that the Wage and Hour Division will not be pursuing further action, and will be very useful for attorneys who may take the case. The Wage and Hour Division has also developed a special process for complainants and representing attorneys to quickly obtain certain relevant case information and documents when available.