reports that theUS  Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis plans to be more aggressive in enforcing federal employment laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and has asked for additional funding to hire hundreds of new compliance officers for the Department of Labor (DOL)’s Wage and Hour Division, which covers overtime issues. This would increase the size of the Division by a third.
“The Labor Department is back in business…you can rest assured that there is a new sheriff in town,” said Solis.

Previously, the DOL advised employees with grievances to get their own attorneys rather than to rely on the DOL to pursue grievances. The Division ended most investigations when employers simply asserted that they could not afford any fines or penalties, and failed to pursue and actively follow up on claims.

The DOL now warns employers to assess their compliance with federal laws, including those related to minimum wages, overtime, and salary exemptions. Failure to do so may cause a new sheriff at the DOL or EEOC to visit your place of business.

One establishment that likely needs to address federal overtime laws is the restaurant chain Hooters, which has been sued for overtime violations in Birmingham. The suit claims that waitresses were not paid for off-the-clock work and routinely had to work for up to an hour after they clocked out. In response to the suit, Atlanta-based Hooters of America said it is “confident” its employment practices comply with the law. The suit seeks back pay for all Hooters employees in a similar situation.

In a separate case, three employees who worked as suite attendants at New York’s marquee tennis tournament, the US Open, filed a class and collective action lawsuit on behalf of suite attendants during the 2004-2009 US Open Tennis Tournament.

The suite attendants claim that defendants violated federal and state wage and hour laws by failing to pay all wages due, including overtime. Suite attendants say they worked over 100 hours each week during the tournaments. The lawsuit seeks collective and class action status, monetary damages and injunctive relief to ensure future compliance with wage and hour laws at US Open events.

Last but definitely not least, restaurant workers in four cities, including cooks, dishwashers, servers, hosts and bus persons are organizing workplace justice campaigns with the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), in an attempt to overhaul hour and wage and discrimination violations.

Workers at Andiamo Dearborn, an Italian restaurant with 11 other locations in the Detroit area, filed a federal lawsuit in January. The suit is pursuing claims of upwards of $125,000 for eight workers who allege wage violations, gender and national origin discrimination, and retaliation.

Two major studies by ROC-NY show that most restaurant employers “take the low road in a low-wage industry.” Employers may choose higher ground now that new sheriffs are on their trail.