80 Years of FLSA Proves Old Adage

80 Years of FLSA Proves Old Adage

Just a quick peek at the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Wage and Hour Tweets for the last two weeks caused me to remember a proverb my parents often repeated with a sigh as we watched the news; “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”   WHD_DOL (@WHD_DOL) | Twitter

Keeping track of employees’ working time has been a major headache for employers for the last 80 years. That came with the advent of the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA). How to keep track of how many hours an employee “really” works is rarely easy. As long as humans insist on being — well just human — there will always be problems, headaches, government investigations and lawsuits. It was hard enough when the FLSA was aimed primarily at discrete, brick and mortar establishments. Business has grown, evolved, specialized and fractured far more than the FLSA. 

The allure of finding a perfect, easy system that will take care of that time keeping headache may have the same force as the desire to: Lose weight, get lean, and look younger by taking this Simply Amazing Miracle Gel, extracted from the rare, ersatz Dilithium Orchids found only in  the upper reaches of the Amazon River basin, or some other product so many of us have at least thought about trying. Or it may simply be that an awful lot of life and business are learned habits passed down from many sources, often over generations of family, managers, supervisors and industry practices. 

Regardless the reason though many businesses get tripped up by the basic task of keeping track of and recording employees’ hours of work. Some might see irony in the fact that the age of modestly priced microchips inexpensively linked to a Global Positioning System of satellites that (a concept scarcely found even in science fiction in 1938) seems not to have really brought much in the way of solving that task and sometimes seems to have made things worse.  

The violations cited by the Wage and Hour blogs were simple: a failure to pay minimum wage, overtime and to keep accurate records. The back wages due to employees and penalties for some employers ranged from the low six figures to over $3.2 million (not including attorneys’fees). Some of the practices leading to these violations included: misclassifying employees as independent contractors, paying straight time for all hours worked (sometimes paying those OT hours in cash off the payroll), paying salaries for all hours with no OT compensation, charging employees for business expenses such as for uniforms, fuel, or use of their own vehicles without compensation, and using piece rate or job rate compensation without regard to hours worked.

The motives and methods varied, as did the penalties, but the common denominator in all these was a failure to keep an accurate accounting of all hours of work.

There are a number of ways to steer clear of trouble when it comes to FLSA compliance. At the risk of being facile and self-serving I offer a personal analogy. I achieved my overall personal peak of physical fitness at the spry age of 45, not from an Amazonian orchid extract, but because it wasn’t until my ego was sufficiently “adjusted” mostly by parenthood, that I let myself be coached by others, joined groups, and paid someone to yell at me “Give me one more set of push ups!” that I let myself be vulnerable enough to let others see me – and listened.         

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