By Douglas Weiner
Last month, we released our Wage and Hour Division Investigation Checklist for employers and have received terrific feedback with additional questions. Following up on your questions, we will be regularly posting FAQs as a regular feature of our Wage & Hour Defense Blog.
In this post, we address an increasingly common issue that many employers are facing in light of aggressive government enforcement at the state and federal level from the Department of Labor.
QUESTION: If a DOL team of Wage Hour Investigators arrive unannounced demanding the immediate production of payroll and tax records and access to employees for confidential interviews what should we do?
ANSWER: An unannounced arrival to investigate signals some adverse information has been submitted to the DOL concerning your wage and hour practices from either an employee complaint or referral from another law enforcement agency such as a state or federal taxing authority, or even possibly from a competitor or labor union. Effectively managing the investigation from the very beginning is essential to obtaining the best possible results. First, advise the leader of the DOL’s investigation team that you are contacting your designated wage and hour representative to promptly arrive to provide the investigators with assistance. Courteously direct the investigation team to a comfortable but secure location such as a conference room where normal business operations will not be disrupted.
Upon arrival, our practice is to verify the credentials of the investigators, and conduct an opening conference to ascertain the purpose and focus of the investigation. Our immediate goal is to engage the DOL in a discussion to learn what they are seeking. Clarifying the specific focus of the DOL’s inquiry enhances initial communication, and allows narrowly tailored responses. For clarity, we ask the DOL to provide written requests for documents and employee interviews. Reminding the DOL the employer has the right to cooperate with the investigation in a manner that does not disrupt normal business operations, we ascertain from our client and discuss with the DOL an acceptable protocol for the conduct of the investigation.
Upon ascertaining the specific focus of the investigation, we advise the DOL we understand what they seek, and propose continuing the investigation in a few days after the identified documents have been gathered (and internally reviewed). We invite the investigators to our firm’s conference rooms where payroll records and other documents may be inspected without returning to our client’s facilities. If the lead investigator is unreasonable in demanding immediate access to records and employees, we consider requiring the DOL to obtain a subpoena. If possible it is preferable to establish an agreed protocol to an investigation to avoid giving the DOL reason to believe you have something to hide, the loss of control over the scope of the investigation and the benefits of good faith cooperation.
In sum, we suggest three things to do, and three things not to do:
1. Notify your representative immediately.
2. Allow your representative to take control of the management of the DOL’s investigation.
3. Maintain a courteous and forthright demeanor until your representative arrives.
1. Ask if the investigation has been prompted by a complaint.
2. Ask the DOL to identify a complainant.
3. Allow immediate inspection of records or employee interviews to take place before your representative has arrived or an opening conference has been conducted.
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In subsequent FAQs, we will discuss in more detail a protocol to produce documents, and what information your wage-hour representative needs to respond to DOL audits, whether scheduled or surprise. But, in the meantime, regular internal reviews and audits of your wage and hour practices and documentation is key to protecting against costly exposure from a government investigation.
Be sure to check out our Wage and Hour Division Investigation Checklist for more helpful tips and advice about preparing for and managing a Wage Hour Inspection.