In a recent posting in the Wage Hour Defense Blog, Michael Kun and Doug Weiner comment on a recent DOL initiative to actually refer potential wage hour law suits to private attorneys. This, the authors note, comes on top of the DOL announcing that it will be hiring 350 new investigators to step up the government's enforcement initiatives.
The DOL calls this program the "Bridge to Justice." Under the program, plaintiff lawyers can sign up for referrals and the agency will make such referrals. I assume they will have to possess some expertise in the area, although it would benefit employers if they did not. It is amazing to me that a government agency, which is supposed to be a neutral, call-it-as-you-see-it, down-the-middle institution, would actively facilitate employees suing their employers for (most likely) overtime monies alleged to be due.
There will be many lawyers who will sign up for the program, attracted by the fee-shifting nature of the FLSA. What will also be attractive is the belief (misplaced as it may be) that employers do not have an understanding of the wage-hour laws, especially on exemption classification matters, which form the basis of many of these suits.
This new development only reinforces what I have been preaching about for years--the need for a self-audit, self-analysis process by which all salaried classifications are examined for possible classification problems, as well as work time issues (e.g. preliminary and postliminary activities). This development does not bode well for employers and signals another wave of FLSA collective actions in 2011. The best defense, the only defense, really, is a proactive scrutinizing of compensation practices and fixing what is broke, in a "soft" subtle manner so as to not arouse "suspicion" and trigger calls to this new network of plaintiff lawyers.
Happy New Year! (I think).