Fair Labor Standards Act: Tracking Additional Complaint Data Could Improve DOL’s Enforcement

What GAO Found

Over the past 10 years, the number of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime cases has generally ranged between 23,000 and 30,000 each year. The compliance actions the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) used to address these cases primarily involved either on-site investigations or conciliations that seek a resolution between the employer and the worker by phone. Back wages due to workers for FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations increased from $129 million in fiscal year 2010 to $226 million in fiscal year 2019. Although the number of WHD investigators decreased by 25 percent from 2010 to 2019, WHD maintained its casework by using procedural flexibilities, such as not investigating low-priority complaints and by distributing work across offices to balance workloads.

From fiscal years 2014 through 2019, most of WHD’s FLSA compliance actions were targeted at priority industries—those WHD identified as low-wage, high violation industries that employ workers who are unlikely to file wage or overtime complaints, such as food services. In 2011, WHD developed a list of 20 priority industries, and encouraged its regional and district offices to focus on these industries by setting and monitoring performance goals as part of its annual enforcement planning process. The percentage of FLSA compliance actions involving the priority industries increased from 75 to 80 percent from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, according to DOL data.

WHD uses several strategies, including supervisory reviews, to address FLSA complaints consistently, but does not track uniform data needed to ensure that the reasons complaints are filed with no WHD compliance action are applied consistently. WHD may file complaints without completing a compliance action because they are not within WHD’s jurisdiction or for other reasons, such as that they are determined to be low-priority. GAO found that WHD filed about 20 percent of FLSA complaints with no compliance action from fiscal years 2014-2019 and the percent varied considerably (from 4 to 46 percent) among district offices (see figure). WHD lacks uniform data on the reasons complaints are filed with no compliance action at intake or the reasons cases are dropped after initial acceptance because there is no data field in WHD’s enforcement database that can be used to systematically aggregate that information. Absent this data, WHD is less able to ensure that a consistent process is applied to complaints.

Percentage of Fair Labor Standards Act Complaints Filed with No Compliance Action by WHD District Offices, Fiscal Years 2014-2019

Note: WHD filed about 20 percent of FLSA complaints with no compliance action from fiscal years 2014-2019, and the percent varied considerably among its district offices.

Why GAO Did This Study

The FLSA sets federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements for millions of U.S. workers. WHD may investigate worker complaints of FLSA violations or initiate investigations in industries it prioritizes for enforcement. GAO was asked to review WHD compliance actions.

This report examines (1) trends in WHD’s FLSA minimum wage and overtime cases, (2) the extent to which WHD’s FLSA compliance actions targeted priority industries, and (3) the extent to which WHD’s reported efforts and data indicate that WHD applied a consistent process to FLSA complaints.

GAO analyzed WHD data on FLSA cases for fiscal years 2010 through 2019, the last full fiscal year of data available when GAO conducted its analysis. GAO also conducted more in-depth reviews of recent efforts (fiscal years 2014-2019). GAO interviewed officials from WHD’s national office, five regional offices, and five of WHD’s 54 district offices with the largest share of FLSA cases in their regions. GAO also interviewed external stakeholders, including state agencies and organizations that represent workers and employers.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends DOL’s WHD develop a method for systematically aggregating and reviewing data on the reasons complaints are filed with no compliance action or cases are dropped. DOL agreed with GAO’s recommendation and stated it would take action to address it.

For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.

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    Many states use flexibilities in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended, in identifying low-performing schools and student subgroups (e.g., students from major racial and ethnic groups and low-income students) that need support and improvement. For example, states must identify all public high schools failing to graduate at least one-third of their students. According to GAO's state plan analysis, four states used ESEA's flexibilities to set higher graduation rates (i.e., 70-86 percent) for purposes of state accountability. Similarly, while ESEA requires states to identify schools in which students in certain subgroups are consistently underperforming, 12 states assess the performance of additional student subgroups. Although states are generally required to set aside a portion of their federal education funding for school improvement activities (see figure), states have some discretion in how they allocate these funds to school districts. According to GAO's survey, 27 states use a formula to allocate funds. GAO also found that in at least 34 states, all school districts that applied for federal funds received them in school year 2018-2019, but states had discretion regarding which schools within those districts to fund and at what level. Funding for School Improvement through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I, Part A Note: For more details, see figure 2 in GAO-21-199. A majority of the 50 states and the District of Columbia responding to our survey reported having at least moderate capacity to support school districts' school improvement activities. Education provides various types of technical assistance to build local and state capacity such as webinars, in-person training, guidance, and peer networks. About one-half of states responding to GAO's survey sought at least one type of technical assistance from Education's program office and various initiatives, and almost all of those found it helpful. For example, Education's Regional Educational Laboratories (REL) help states use data and evidence, access high-quality research to inform decisions, identify opportunities to conduct original research, and track progress over time using high-quality data and methods. Several states most commonly reported finding the following assistance by RELs to be helpful: in-person training (26), webinars (28), and reviews of existing research studies to help select interventions (24). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires states to have statewide accountability systems to help provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps high-quality education. These systems must meet certain federal requirements, but states have some discretion in how they design them. For example, ESEA requires states to identify low-performing schools and student subgroups for support and improvement. Senate Report 115-289 accompanying the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2019, includes a provision for GAO to review states' school improvement activities. This report addresses (1) how states identify and allocate funds for schools identified for support and improvement; and (2) the extent to which states have capacity to support districts' school improvement activities and how helpful states find Education's technical assistance. GAO analyzed the most current approved state accountability plans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia as of September 2020. The information in these plans predates the COVID-19 pandemic and represents a baseline from which to compare school improvement activities going forward. GAO also surveyed and received responses from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. GAO also conducted follow-up interviews with officials in three states selected based on variation in reported capacity and geographic diversity. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
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    In Crime News
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