I tweeted this article out on Twitter last week, but for your Friday reading, I wanted to pass along Al Jazeera’s editorial profile of Dr. David Weil, the administrator of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The WHD is the DOL division that, among other duties, implements and enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations and oversees various worker misclassification initiatives. Dr. Weil’s office is also responsible for investigating violators, whether it was child labor on FLDS farms in Utah and California or so-called “wage theft” at businesses around the country. As the reporter sagely observes, “his small corner of the federal bureaucracy has been transformed from innocuous cog to powerful lever in the recent efforts by Barack Obama’s administration to vigilantly police companies that violate the rights of American workers. ” Dr. Weil was confirmed in April 2014 by a narrow 51-42 Senate majority followed a similarly narrow 12-10 party-line committee vote in December. Prior to Dr. Weil, the WHD had no confirmed administrator since the early days of the Bush administration, and, from 2004 through 2014, the position was filled by a succession of acting heads and a recess appointee. Even President Obama had difficulty filling the position, as Dr. Weil was the administration’s third nominee for the position.
Dr. Weil’s nomination drew particular attention because of his work on a May 2010 report to the DOL entitled Improving Workplace Conditions through Strategic Enforcement: Report to the Wage and Hour Division Strategic Enforcement. The report, which he principally authored, provided a number of policy prescriptions that have informed Administrator Weil’s enforcement priorities at the WHD, some of which are noted in the Al Jazeera profile, including the changes to the FLSA regulations and white collar exemptions. Dr. Weil’s 2014 book, “The Fissured Workplace,” also highlights his belief that government should address the “problems” of outsourcing, subcontracting and franchising because he believes that they “skirt the social costs resulting from that flexibility.”
The Al Jazeera profile is a friendly one for the Department (written by a fellow at a left-leaning, progressive think tank), but it does highlight the coming battle between now and December in the federal government’s FY2016 budget. President Obama’s budget calls for a 22% increase (from $227 million to $277 million) in funding for the Wage and Hour Division while the proposed GOP budgets would cut funding by at least $67 million dollars.
Upshot for Employers
For employers, the takeaway point in this article is this one: “nearly half of wage and hour division investigations in 2014 were targeted rather than complaint-based.” Even with its small budget relative to its mission, Dr. Weil has shifted WHD from a reactive role to a proactive one. This latest profile should remind employers that they need to be proactive in policing wage and hour practices, too. Clearly understanding Dr. Weil’s enforcement priorities and view of the workplace is the first step in understanding how to avoid unwelcome attention from the WHD. If you don’t have time to read either the 2010 report or Dr. Weil’s book above, take a few minutes and read through the op-ed at Al Jazeera (particularly if you are looking for a spooky story as we head into the Halloween weekend).