GAO Finds Widespread Problems in DoL Wage and Hour Division

April 10, 2009 ( - The federal agency charged with investigating allegations of employer violations of federal wage laws is rife with problems that have effectively left millions of American workers unprotected, the Congressional watchdog department asserted recently.

That assessment came during Congressional testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor by Gregory D. Kutz, managing director Forensic Audits and Special Investigations at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Jonathan T. Meyer, assistant director of Forensic Audits and Special Investigations. Kutz and Meyer told the lawmakers that GAO auditors reached the conclusion after studying actual cases probed by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) as well as by filing fictitious complaints about federal labor law violations and monitoring how they were handled.

Regarding the undercover portion of their audit, the GAO officials said investigators filed 10 common complaints with WHD district offices across the country and encountered:

  • sluggish response times,
  • a poor complaint intake process, and
  • failed attempts to question the complaining worker’s employer.

In one case, a WHD investigator lied about investigative work performed and did not investigate GAO’s fictitious complaint. GAO experienced a delay of nearly five, four, and two months while waiting for WHD to begin investigating three cases different cases, the GAO officials said.

“This investigation clearly shows that the Department of Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn,” Kutz and Meyer told the lawmakers. “Our work has shown that when WHD adequately investigates and follows through on cases they are often successful; however, far too often many of America’s most vulnerable workers find themselves dealing with an agency concerned about resource limitations, with ineffective processes, and without certain tools necessary to perform timely and effective investigations of wage theft complaints. Unfortunately, far too often the result is unscrupulous employers taking advantage of our country’s low wage workers.”

The GAO said more than 100 million workers are covered under labor laws enforced by WHD, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA),

The testimony is available here .