Nearly 9,000 private FLSA lawsuits were filed in 2015.
That number might not seem panic-worthy, but when you consider that the number of lawsuits filed between 1995 and 2000 hovered around just 1,500 per year, 9,000 suddenly seems astronomical. To put that into perspective, it’s the difference between 4 and 25 lawsuits filed each and every day. Those numbers have been on the rise since the mid-2000s, and experts predict that they will only continue to climb.
But if you think your business is safe, think again. As it turns out, not even the U.S. Department of Labor is safe.
According to Bloomberg Law, the DOL has recently agreed to pay $7 million dollars to settle a lawsuit filed in 2006 by AFGE Local 12 (a Union that represents thousands of government employees in the Washington D.C. area). The Union claimed that the DOL had violated the FLSA — the very statute the DOL is tasked with enforcing.
The DOL’s violation? Failing to compensate employees for off-the-clock work — a complex and confusing portion of the FLSA (but really, “complicated” and “confusing” can be used to describe the entire thing).
Understandably, the DOL is getting a lot of flack for breaking their own rules, but, the truth is, it could have happened to anyone. And if the DOL can make a mistake regarding the FLSA, you’d better believe that you could too.
Take it from employment law expert Daniel Abrahams (partner with Brown Rudnick LLP). He says, “Other than the IRS, the FLSA is about the most regulated area of American jurisprudence. A dispute with the DOL or a group of employees doesn’t mean you’re a bad employer. It just means that you ran afoul of some very complicated rules. There’s no shame to be had in not knowing all the rules offhand, or running into trouble with these requirements.” (Learn more.)
I know what you’re thinking, “Maybe the DOL should feel a little shame — it’s their job to know these things ‘offhand.’” But Paul DeCamp, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Washington D.C. jumps to their defense.
“It’s fair to say no one on the planet cares more about the FLSA and securing compliance than the DOL,” he says, “maybe this lawsuit points to the need to clarify the law. If the DOL can’t get this right, what chance do other employers have?”
“Employers need to take a step back and ask how this could happen,” he added. “When a model employer is in this situation, there must be something inherent in the FLSA that makes compliance elusive even for well-meaning employers.”
Unfortunately, that needed change likely won’t be happening anytime soon.
The moral of the story is this: The FLSA is a complex bunch of statutes filled with even more complex rules and regulations. It can be nearly impossible to understand and comply with them all — even for the very department that created them — which is why it’s so important for business owners to consult with counsel and perform regular FLSA audits of their company and employees.
It’s also the reason it’s critical for you to utilize the tools that make it easier to comply with the FLSA — and to react strategically and quickly if you do find yourself with a lawsuit on your hands.
Like, you know, cloud-based time tracking.
With a black-box audit trail, overtime alerts, and accurate-to-the-second employee hours for payroll, TSheets is your friend when it comes to the FLSA’s wage and hours provisions. Start your free trial today.