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Wage and Hour Issues: A Hidden Cancer?

My friend, a fellow attorney, was emphasizing how sudden and catastrophic wage and hour issues can surface in an organization. “All of a sudden,” he said, “you may learn that you have huge issues that threaten the well-being of your organization, not just financially, but in terms of credibility, reputation, and productivity. It’s like having a tumor that goes undetected for years and one day you find out you have cancer.”
“I get it,” I responded. Boy, did I get it.
Earlier this year, I had a cancerous tumor removed from my face. Here’s the crazy thing: It had been there for years – right under my nose. Visually undetectable, I had felt a deep bump in the area between my nose and upper lip for a very long time. Unconcerned and thinking it was likely a cyst, I mentioned it casually to my dermatologist last December because I thought it might be slowly growing. “Let’s get it out then,” she said.
One week later I found out that I had an atypical and aggressive form of basal cell carcinoma. In an instant, with my doctor’s diagnosis, I went from being someone who had never had cancer to someone who, as it turns out, had had cancer for years . . . right under my nose.
One painful, three-hour surgery later, 47 stitches, weeks of wound care, and a newly rabid dedication to sun block — I am not only cancer-free, but no one would guess from looking at me that I had any surgery to my face at all. And while my face is restored, life is not the same. I have a standing twice-a-year skin-check appointment with my dermatologist to monitor changes, I am expected to self-monitor and affirmatively communicate any change to my skin, and I look at life with a heightened sense of both gratitude and vulnerability.
And so, I come back to wage and hour issues. Yes, as an attorney, I agree that when these issues surface, whether via a complaint or a lawsuit, it can be like finding out you have cancer — a cancer that may have lain dormant for years. The issue is how you respond to this new information – being proactive to detect new risks and to mitigate the risks you (or others) identify.
Taking a cue from my dermatologist, I offer the following simple suggestions for addressing potential Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) risks:

  • Educate yourself. Know what’s at stake from a worst-case scenario perspective.
  • Conduct a self-audit. Get the facts. If something doesn’t seem right, find out more and don’t ignore possible issues.
  • Seek out help from experts. Select the best expertise you can since you may be working with and relying on this person for a very long time.
  • Treat the problem. Work with your expert to assess and correct the issues.
  • Keep notes of the steps you take to identify and correct issues.
  • Communicate with key stakeholders. Let them know what’s going on and what steps are being taken to address issues.
  • Educate and enlist others’ help to work toward a common good.
  • Follow up to make sure that corrective measures are effective, make additional corrections if necessary.
  • Monitor. Make a good faith effort to continue to self-monitor on a regular basis and consistently address new issues that may arise.
  • Take care. Follow the protocols that have been devised to mitigate and avoid future issues.

And, in the end, my sincerest hope for you is that you will be well!
Tucker Miller, Esq. is a professional facilitator and regional director for ELI, Inc., a provider of award-winning learning solutions that transform complex laws and ethical codes of conduct into simple behavioral rules that help organizations improve employee performance, reduce legal and ethical risk, and create civil, productive workplaces. Ms. Miller earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington in Seattle and her law degree from Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Washington and is a member of the Washington State Bar Association.

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