In this week’s Connecticut Law Tribune, there’s a story about how the U.S. Department of Labor is hiring 250 more investigators and what this potentially means for wage/hour suits in Connecticut. The gist of the story is that employers should not surprised if there’s an increased focus on such claims.
I happen to be quoted in this article saying that some of the fuss may be a bit unwarranted. "[Schwartz] said the number of wage and hour cases he’s seen has remained steady for a couple of years. ‘We’ve seen some increased publicity about it,” Schwartz said. “We still see those cases, but it’s not as though we’ve seen a spike in the state.’"
The article then goes on to quote another attorney saying that it’s a "hot topic", seemingly contradicting me. So what gives?
Well, I actually think we’re both right and talking about two different things. There is no doubt that wage/hour suits are a "hot topic". As I noted in the article, there’s been increased publicity about such claims. But as of yet, that has not translated to more federal lawsuits featuring wage/hour claims. [Statistics for state wage/hour claims are not easily identifiable.]
Before talking with the reporter, I reviewed the federal court caseload in Connecticut. What did that reveal? That for 2006-2008, the number of "labor" lawsuits filed (of which wage/hour claims are a significant part) remained surprisingly consistent: 127 lawsuits in 2006, 122 in 2007, 125 in 2008.
But those numbers tell only part of the story. As it turns out, the the number of federal lawsuits filed in Connecticut is down over 20 percent over the last 10 years. So, putting these numbers together, it suggests that wage/hour claims represent a higher percentage of all the lawsuits being brought. However, the overall number of those wage/hour suits has remained fairly consistent.
What does this mean if you’re an employer? Well, for starters, it means that wage/hour issues remain important for employers to resolve. Misclassifying workers can lead to big headaches and big penalties for companies. Taking steps to correct any issues you have before then turn into major class-actions can save time and lots of effort down. And the DOL’s renewed focus on these issues ensure that wage/hour claims remain a "hot topic".
However, before you devote all your resources to this issue, keep the risk in perspective. Yes, wage/hour claims are important but human resources departments have many other "hot topics" as well (including equal pay , FMLA and ADA issues). Each of these issues is no less important just because there hasn’t been an article written about it.