The following was posted by Bill Pokorny on FMLA Insights:
“Shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Obama administration’s “Middle Class Task Force” announced a new program in which the U.S. Department of Labor will partner with the American Bar Association to refer complaints under the FMLA and federal wage and hour laws to private plaintiffs’ attorneys. Here is an excerpt from the ABA’s press release:
‘The workers’ rights component will begin a first-of-its kind partnership between a federal agency – the Department of Labor – and the private bar, the ABA. In a typical year, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division receives more than 35,000 employment-related legal complaints. In order to ensure that as many workers as possible have access to legal assistance, the Department of Labor and the ABA are establishing an attorney-referral system. Workers will be referred to lawyers experienced in the Family and Medical Leave Act and Fair Labor Standards Act who will handle requests from workers nationwide through a network of state and local ABA-approved lawyer referral services.
“Our nation’s workers deserve full and fair compensation, and this Administration is committed to ensuring that they receive it,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Today’s announced collaboration with the ABA streamlines worker access to additional legal resources and builds on the Department of Labor’s continued efforts to ensure that employers comply with America’s labor laws.’
While this initiative will presumably benefit some middle-class workers, the obvious winners here are plaintiffs’ lawyers. Employers, on the other hand, may be feeling left out of the holiday cheer. Our prescription: another glass of egg nog, followed by a careful review of your FMLA and wage and hour policies and practices for the new year.”
From our perspective, this further widens the gap between the DOL and American business. This unprecedented move may help a few employees with legitimate complaints, but it is mostly bad news for employers. Procedurally, the DOL could and often did dismiss unfounded claims. Most lawsuits don’t result in dismissal; they result in a settlement, and often times regardless of the facts. Now that private attorneys are automatically included in the process, it’s likely that the entire claim process will seek to “settle” claims, rather than resolve them, especially when you consider a private plaintiff’s attorney only gets paid when there client is awarded a cash settlement.
Although the method for resolving claims is changing, we at HRFix are still in the business of minimizing your exposure. The importance of properly documented compliance has never been higher. Private lawyers are motivated by profits, so let’s not give them any reason to take a case on a contingency. If you have any questions about FMLA or your FLSA pay practices, please call us today and make certain your employees and managers complete their FMLA and Fair Labor Standards Act training respectively.
To learn more about how we can help, please call us at (866) 240-6618, or visit us at www.HRFix.com.