Poor ecomony a red flag

Published 11:02 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

The U.S. Department of Labor said it recently found 276 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act in Alabama and Mississippi.

The department’s wage and hour division said it visited 62 independent grocery stores in rural or small communities in the two states and found 23 employers had committed 276 violations of the act, said a news release.

Among the findings, investigators found 163 employees were owed more than $66,000 in back wages and nine employers have paid more than $70,000 in penalties for 62 violations regarding minors’ work hours and hazardous occupations, said the release.

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“We found that these independent grocers tend to be less informed about youth employment, minimum wage and overtime rules of the FLSA and to allow minors to use hazardous equipment and work more hours than are allowed by law,” said Diane Dawson, the division’s Gulf Coast district director.

The division said it has also identified and will visit retail and food-service establishments across the two states.

Granted, this case was more about misinformation than employers trying to save a buck or two, but it does re-enforce a concern I have as the economy worsens. With the job market becoming tighter and so many people competing for available jobs, are we bound to see more labor law violations?

Regardless of what our economic shape looks like at the current moment, the laws are still the same. The same rules and regulations still apply, but we may see more cases where some employers try to push those rules to the limit to save a buck or two and because employees will certainly be less likely to report violations out of fear of losing their jobs.

Education and accurate information for both employees and employers are needed to keep these types of violations from becoming a growing issue.

The U.S. Department of Labor has a wealth of resources to answer questions pertaining to labor laws; just go to its Web site at www.dol.gov.

Pertaining to youth workers, the Department of Labor has a Web site specifically addressing rules for workers 16 and under — www.youthrules.dol.gov.

It is vital that both employers and employees stay informed and up-to-date on federal and state labor laws.

John Few is a staff reporter for the Demopolis Times.