Last updated on September 5th, 2012 at 04:10 pm
Hilda Solis, secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), famously proclaimed at the beginning of her term that “there is a new sheriff at the Department of Labor. The Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business.” The department has significantly increased its enforcement action in a number of areas, including OSHA and Wage and Hour Enforcement.
Under the command of Secretary Solis and David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA enforcement actions have risen sharply, both in terms of the number of inspections and the monetary penalties awarded. Indeed, the Department of Labor’s 2010 budget funded 100 new compliance officers, and, tellingly, required OSHA to shift many of its staff currently working on compliance assistance programs into enforcement. As a result, OSHA nearly tripled the number of significant cases (citations including fines of $100,000 or more) in 2010, and predicts a 6.5 percent increase in the number of inspections conducted in 2011.
Additionally, OSHA recently unveiled a new “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.” Under this program, OSHA will target employers that it believes disregard their obligation to create and maintain a safe work environment through willful, repeated or multiple violations. This will lead to significant increases in OSHA inspections at workplaces with a history of health and safety violations, and also will drive a nationwide inspection program of related workplaces. Accordingly, if OSHA believes violations at a particular grocery store are indicative of a pattern of non-compliance, it will launch investigations into other grocery stores owned or operated by the same company. All grocery stores, therefore, should be on high alert because OSHA will likely pursue the supermarket industry aggressively once it finds violations with one store.
Wage and Hour Enforcement Action Increases
N.G.A. recently reported to its members on the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division announcement that it will begin an enforcement initiative against small, independent and franchise grocery stores to investigate claims of systemic minimum wage, overtime and child labor violations. The enforcement campaign will begin in Mississippi and Alabama, but is likely to extend to other parts of the country as well.
The DOL contends that “small grocery stores consistently exceed the time and work hour limitations established for 14- and 15-year-old employees, and commonly require minors to perform prohibited hazardous tasks, such as operating power-driven meat slicing machines and trash compactors. In addition, vulnerable adult workers in this industry are often denied fair wages for their full work periods.” The DOL plans “to make unannounced visits to small grocery stores … to ensure that employers are not exploiting their employees and that their business practices are not putting law-abiding companies at a disadvantage.”
With summer in full swing, it’s more important than ever for store operators to review their wage and hour practices to ensure proper procedures are in place and that their employees are aware of these rules and procedures when it comes to wage and hour regulations. Examples of restrictions for youth employees include prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 from operating cardboard bailers to cleaning sharp objects such as meat slicers. Ensure your managers understand the regulations and restrictions on youth operations and demand they enforce the rules. Keep records of training sessions and make sure signage on restricted equipment is visible and prominent.
There is no doubt about it, the U.S. Department of Labor is clearly focused on enforcement and making examples of companies it finds in violation. By reviewing your policies and procedures and ensuring your workforce and management team clearly understands and complies you will have taken an important step to protecting your business.