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Labor Department Wage Division Hit Hiring Goal, Acting Head Says

June 23, 2022, 9:27 AM

The US Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division has hired 100 new investigators as part of its efforts to address attrition and morale, while also committing to act on concerns raised by staffers in the wake of growing complaints about the work environment at the agency’s field offices.

Acting Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman told Bloomberg Law Wednesday that she has traveled to seven district offices over the past four weeks to meet with division staff about how the agency is functioning.

“They’ve been very forthcoming. They have not held back,” Looman said of the recent meetings with division employees.

Looman also said the agency has completed a hiring initiative announced earlier this year aimed to reverse attrition at the agency that current and former staff have blamed on workload, and in some cases, hostility from management.

“We’ve hired all 100 positions,” Looman said. Those new hires have now begun their training and mentoring programs, so that they have the “technical skills as well as the investigative skills that they need in order to really do great cases,” she said.

Counting Staff

Labor Department leadership efforts to engage with field staff come after the number of investigators at the wage enforcement arm sunk to historic lows earlier this year.

Based on numbers provided by the agency, WHD started the year with 757 investigators, the lowest on record since fiscal 2008.

Looman said Wednesday that the number of agency investigators totaled 784 as of June 22.

The 100 investigators Looman mentioned in the interview are being on-boarded and aren’t fully reflected in that number, the DOL clarified.

In addition to the recent hiring spree for investigators, the agency also has started the hiring process for 25 more enforcement staff, although not all will be investigators. The WHD doesn’t plan to conduct another large hiring initiative like this latest effort in the near future, Looman said.

“What we’re doing on a regular basis is we’re evaluating all the time about how we can make sure we can continue to hire,” Looman said.

Rethinking Metrics

Current and former WHD employees, as well as their union, blame the agency’s focus on case metrics to measure field offices’ performance for creating unmanageable caseloads that have encouraged weak investigations.

Looman said the issue of using case metrics is something the agency is “grappling with,” noting that it’s important to help the agency demonstrate the scope and impact of its work and that that data can be used to inform its enforcement efforts.

“I have never said, our front office has never said, and our regional administrators have never said that we are focused on the numbers,” Looman said.

The agency must address some “communication challenges,” she added, to clarify that “the numbers don’t run us, that we use numbers to help us make better choices and decisions.”

Staff Feedback

Following Looman’s in-person meetings and office hour sessions with staffers, she said her team has compiled action items and recommendations.

“Those are also things that we want to consider and think through and make sure that we are able to address in a way that’s meaningful for the agency, the staff, and all of the workers that we serve,” Looman said.

In response to staff and union skepticism about the efforts to engage workers, Looman said that the goal is to help the agency transition.

“I hear how frustrated people are and how scared people are and how tired people are,” she said. “And part of that’s where we’ve been. And one of the things that I keep asking people to think about is, where do we want to go? And how are we going to get there together?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Rainey in Washington at rrainey@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Genevieve Douglas at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com