By Douglas Weiner and Kara Maciel
“There’s a new sheriff in town.” With those words in 2009, Secretary Hilda Solis initiated a policy at the Department of Labor that emphasized increased investigations and prosecutions of violators rather than the prior administration’s emphasis on providing compliance assistance.
Her departure – announced yesterday – is unlikely, however, to have much effect on the Department’s current aggressive enforcement policy, as the top enforcement officer of the Department remains Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith. Solicitor Smith was previously the New York State Commissioner of Labor, where she introduced task force investigations and procedures for government agencies to share information to enhance enforcement initiatives. Under Solicitor Smith’s leadership, the Department has implemented many of these same techniques and hired additional investigators and attorneys to strengthen the Department’s enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and related wage and hour statutes.
We expect enforcement to remain a top priority of the Department under the second term of the Obama Administration no matter who is appointed to replace Secretary Solis. Accordingly, with the start of the new year, employers would be wise to take the time to closely examine payroll policies and practices, including exempt and independent contractor classifications, meal break deductions, and overtime calculations. Our advice is to be proactive with a self-audit that is protected by the attorney-client privilege and correct inadvertent errors before a government investigator or plaintiffs’ attorney comes knocking at your door.