In 2015, Congress enacted new legislation giving the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) greater latitude in assessing civil penalties against employers who violate certain provisions of U.S. labor law. Such violations, usually the domain of the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the DOL for enforcement purposes, are subject to higher penalties in 2019.
The DOL began talking about increasing civil penalties in 2018. The new penalties were codified on January 23 (2019) after being officially entered into the Federal Register. Simply put, it will now cost companies more for every labor law violation they are found guilty of.
Although time and space do not permit us to publish all of the details of the increased penalties, here are some of the highlights:
The Employee PolygraphProtection Act (EPPA) protects workers' rights in relation to taking polygraph tests. The law highlights seven specific violations subject to civil penalties. For example, requiring prospective employers to take a polygraph test as a condition of employment for any reason other than those provided by the EPPA is a violation that can incur a civil penalty in excess of $21,000.
The FLSA is one of the most comprehensive regulations directing how companies treat their employees. New civil penalties are now in force for six different violations. They include:
- Violation of home worker rules – $1,052 per violation
- General violation of child labor standards – $12,845 per violation
- Violation of child labor standards resulting in serious injury or death – $58,383 per violation
- Willful or repeated violation of child labor standards resulting in serious injury or death – $116,766 per violation
- Repeated or willful violation of sections 206 or 207 of the child labor laws – $2,014 per violation
- Repeated or willful violations of minimum wage and overtime laws – $2,014 per violation.
The last item on the list is one that should concern every employer in the US. The federal government takes overtime pay very seriously. Companies found in violation of federal rules will be subject to the new civil penalty at bare minimum. In most cases, additional back pay and associated fees and charges will also apply.
The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employees to offer unpaid leave to all qualified employees for the purposes of caring for a newborn baby or meeting other personal needs relating to medical issues. A willful violation of the act is now subject to a civil penalty of $173.
Violations of immigration law are divided into five different sections for enforcement reasons. We will not go through all of them here as there are just too many for a blog post of this length. We will say that the largest civil penalty in the immigration category is $115,624 per violation. It is assessed for repeated or willful violations of housing or transportation safety and health provision under the Immigration & Nationality Act.
Another big category, equal to FSLA violations in terms of importance, covers occupational safety and health violations. Five civil penalties under this category have been increased for 2019. Among them is the penalty for willful or repeated violations under section 5 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). It was increased from $129,336 to $132,598 per violation.
So what does it all mean? In short, the DOL has demonstrated its commitment to enforcing labor laws by increasing civil penalties. Employers and their HR and payroll providers need to be aware of both the regulations and their associated penalties. To ignore them is to invite trouble.