The US Labor Department’s wage enforcement dropped for a fourth consecutive year in 2022 as the agency struggled to recruit new investigative staff.
The amount of back wages recovered by the Wage and Hour Division, the number of employees who received back wages, as well as total number of hours spent on investigations, all dropped in fiscal year 2022 compared to the year prior, according to data published by the agency.
In addition, the average number of days it took the wage division to resolve a complaint increased from 71.38 in fiscal year 2021 to 74.3 in fiscal year 2022.
The declining trend in investigations and back wage recoveries could reflect the DOL wage arm’s issues with recruiting and retaining employees to enforce the minimum wage, overtime, paid leave, and more than a dozen other laws the agency oversees.
The pandemic “significantly impacted the pipeline of cases” concluded in the last fiscal year, the DOL said, adding that the agency’s wage arm “advanced worker-focused priorities and strategies through our cross-regional initiatives, protected essential workers who served on the front lines during the pandemic, and strengthened our strategic partnerships to ensure workers have the greatest possible protections.”
On average the wage division “recovered $1,728 in wages and damages per worker -- a 10-year record high,” an agency spokesperson said.
Earlier this year, reports emerged detailing the concerns of current and former wage division employees and officials who said that low morale and unrealistic workload expectations were causing staff to leave.
In response, acting agency head Jessica Looman visited the division’s local offices and set new hiring goals to help alleviate some of the pressure on current staff.
It’s unclear if those efforts were fruitful, however. The Wage and Hour Division had 810 investigators on board at the end of November, according to a DOL spokesperson, a small uptick from the 782 investigators on staff at the end of FY 2021.
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