Knock Knock. Who’s There? The Department of Labor (the “DOL”).
The DOL is here to see you – now what?!
Imagine the scene: you are the owner of a business, not too big but not small either. You have done pretty well for yourself and have grossed over $500,000 in revenues over the past few years. You have a staff of employees, most of whom are hourly. It’s a typical day, business as usual, when all of a sudden your receptionist announces that some people from the Department of Labor (DOL) are here to see you. A myriad of thoughts and questions race through your mind: “Why is the DOL here? I never got a letter or any notice that I had any problems! Why didn’t they call and make an appointment? Am I in trouble?”
One thought that will not likely go through your mind is this: “I need to call my attorney.” The reason for that is simple: most business owners are used to solving problems by employing obvious and simple solutions and turning on their best “customer service” skills to nip problems in the bud. Consequently, you walk into the lobby to meet your “guests,” show them into your office (or preferably to a conference room), sit them down, offer them a cup of coffee from your brand new Keurig machine, ask how you can help and wait for a response. Little do you know that the DOL is already five steps ahead of you, and they are waiting to pounce. These DOL investigators come armed with the tools of their trade, starting with a detailed, comprehensive, all-encompassing request for documents that would take hours, days or maybe even longer to compile. They are not impressed with your graciousness; they want blood, and they want it now.
At this point, most business owners are still thinking they have it under control. Just give the DOL what they want, and they will go away. If only it were that simple. This is just the tip of the iceberg, the first shot across the bow. Your business is now in the DOL’s sight, and the DOL will not leave without their pound of flesh. If you have not thought about bringing in legal counsel before, now is the time to make the call.
You may be wondering how the DOL chose your business. Usually, the DOL will act on either an anonymous complaint, a follow-up from a prior investigation or a focused concentration on businesses similar to yours. The anonymous complaint is usually made by a current or former disgruntled employee who believes that you are not paying what you owe him. Chances are, if you are not paying one employee in accordance with the law, then you are probably making the same errors across the board. The “follow-up” investigation comes after a prior investigation, just when you thought the DOL was through with you. The DOL loves to pop in to make sure that you are following through with all the things required under the law – like keeping accurate time and payroll records, making sure hourly employees are getting paid time and one-half for overtime hours worked each week, not docking employees who work through lunch, etc. (you know, all the things for which you were cited and paid dearly for previously). The third type of investigation commences with the DOL’s decision to focus on specific industries in the local geographic area based on a history of reported violations. Some South Florida industries that have been on the DOL’s radar in the past include restaurants (especially those with tip pools), farms and nurseries, dry cleaners, home health agencies, etc.
So even if you did not think about calling your attorney before you offered the DOL investigators a seat in your conference room and a cup of coffee, do not fear. A skilled labor & employment law attorney can help you communicate with, respond to and negotiate an exchange of documents (and more) with the DOL. A labor & employment attorney speaks the DOL’s language and is invaluable in these type of situations. Regardless whether you hire an attorney before you meet the DOL investigator, after you provide copies of all your business’ financial statements and tax returns or after the DOL has determined that you owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages and penalties, a seasoned labor & employment attorney will be able to help.
For more information, please feel free to contact me.
Ellen M. Leibovitch
Board Certified Labor & Employment Lawyer
2700 N. Military Trail, Suite 150
Boca Raton, Florida33431
Intellectual Property, Labor & Employment Law, Bankruptcy, Commercial Litigation, and Corporate Law
Miami • Ft.Lauderdale • Boca Raton