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Department of Labor implements new civil penalties

For years the civil penalties that government entities could levy on companies that violate their employees' rights have been stagnant. Congress did not allow the agencies to peg the penalties to inflation. The net result was that the "bite" of the penalties was slowly eroded over time until they were essentially meaningless. But last year, Congress passed the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, to advance the effectiveness of penalties.

To implement this new law, the Department of Labor announced two interim final rules. The first rule covers the vast majority of DOL entities that investigate and punish companies for labor violations including the Occupational Safety Health Administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Wage and Hour Division and more. The second rule, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, covers penalties associated with the H-2B guest worker program.

The new civil penalties will begin taking effect this summer as agencies are able to use a "catch-up" provision to bring the penalties in line with current inflation. The DOL estimates that its penalties will rise significantly, though the amounts will vary depending on the agency. This will help ensure that companies remain in compliant with labor and employee laws.

If you believe that your employer has violated your rights then you have a few options and you may want to speak to an attorney. For example, you could have both a federal and state claim, which determines the type of lawsuit that you file. You may want to file an administrative claim with an agency or perhaps a lawsuit would be more effective. Regardless of the choices, an attorney can go over the legal landscape to help you arrive at the correct stratagem.

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