Perhaps you didn’t study this for your SHRM-CP Certification – or even the bar exam.
So I’m here to confirm that federal judges frown on employers threatening the families of employees cooperating in a Wage and Hour Division investigation or otherwise exercising their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Specifically, the FLSA makes it unlawful to retaliate against an employee for complaining about minimum wage, overtime, or anything else that the FLSA may cover. The same restrictions apply when the employee cooperates with the government, sues, or testifies about these subjects.
In a recent investigation and litigation that the U.S. Department of Labor initiated, a federal court ordered a company and its owner – who threatened a former employee who participated in an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division – to pay the worker $25,000 in punitive damages.
That’s in addition to the $82,123 in back wages (and an equal amount in liquidated damages) that the company and owner must pay eight employees to resolve violations of the FLSA’s wage, recordkeeping, and child labor requirements. (Something about a 17-year-old operating a chainsaw and woodchipper.) Plus, they will have to pay $3,907 in civil money penalties.
More to the point of this post, the Department press release notes that in a consent judgment and order, the court prohibited the company and its owner from taking actions, including the following, because an employee asserted their rights under the FLSA:
- Terminating employees.
- Inflicting physical harm or verbal abuse on employees or their family members.
- Reporting employees to immigration authorities or using an employee’s immigration status against them.
- Disparaging employees to other employers.
- Instructing employees not to cooperate with department investigations.
The FLSA and its supporting regulations don’t mention everything in this punch list, but I hope that none of this should come as much of a surprise.
For more on what it’s like when the Department of Labor darkens your door for a wage and hour investigation, check out this government resource. I’ve handled state and federal wage and hour investigations for corporate clients. For more on how to prepare for and respond to a government investigation, contact qualified outside employment counsel.