To Eliminate FLSA Risk, Change Workplace Habits

Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows how hard it is to keep that New Year’s resolution – let alone keep the pounds off for good.
Old habits are hard to change and new ones are hard to establish. But that’s just what is needed if employers want to put the major risk of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)  liability behind them for the long term.
In many organizations, it’s common for employees to work through lunch, attend midday meetings where a meal is provided, or take training courses on their own time.
These practices, deeply ingrained and seemingly benign, combined with the fact that some experts estimate that as many as 86 percent of the U.S. workforce may not be exempt from FLSA overtime provisions, add up to serious liability for employers.
Consider also that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has embarked on a program of aggressive FLSA enforcement.The agency has recently grown its staff, hiring 250 new employees to help investigate wage and hour complaints.
The DOL’s comprehensive “We Can Help” initiative is designed to educate workers about their FLSA rights and encourage them to report possible wage violations without fear of reprisal. The campaign has its own website complete with catchy jingle and bilingual public service announcements from Hollywood star Jimmy Smits and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis.
Blend together all these ingredients and season with pervasive economic insecurity and you have the recipe for potential legal and financial disaster for employers.
A one-time fix is no fix
So what’s an employer to do? Altering long-standing and seemingly benign practices isn’t easy. Training is an important part of the solution, as I wrote about in last week’s blog post.
Getting managers and employees alike to change when most are comfortable with existing practices requires more than a one-time memo, informational video or e-learning event. Companies must align daily routine on-the-job behavior with legal requirements and give staff the reason, tools and reinforcement to change their workplace habits.
Managers need the wage and hour training and tools to explain the basis for new practices, and how to handle objections to changing long-standing habits. It will also  take ongoing reinforcement to keep the message alive and sustain commitment to FLSA compliance. And employees need knowledge and reinforcement as well.
Many organizations are choosing to take their chances by turning a blind eye to ingrained, but risky, workplace behaviors. Don’t be one of them. The longer the questionable practices continue, the greater the risk that they will lead to a costly and time-consuming lawsuit.
The FLSA issue isn’t going away, nor are lawyers going to suddenly abandon the pursuit of lucrative wage and hour claims.
Unless employers consciously and deliberately address FSLA issues and permanently fix them, ongoing FLSA liability will persist and even grow. For employers that choose to ignore the issue or ineffectively address underlying problems and behaviors, wage-and-hour compliance will continue to be a long-term and costly business and legal risk.

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