2011 Budget Means More Enforcement Against Employers

I’ve been trying to get the word out to employers for the last several months that the executive branch of the federal government has employers who violate any of the federal employment laws in its sights (click here for an earlier blog post on enforcement efforts). Money for enforcement is pouring into federal agencies like OSHA, which enforces health and safety regulations, the Department of Labor, which enforces compensation requirements like the overtime and minimum wage laws, and the EEOC, which enforces the discrimination laws.

Within the 2011 fiscal year budget proposed by President Obama last week, there is money for the hiring of 358 more Department of Labor employees, including 177 investigators and other enforcement staff, bringing the total proposed DOL workforce to nearly 18,000.

OSHA will add 25 more employees to inspect workplaces for safety violations, meaning that 42250 businesses will be subject to these inspections in FY 2011. “Today’s budget affirms this administration’s strong commitment to vigorous enforcement,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said. “We are sending a strong message throughout industry that we will not tolerate the endangerment of workers.”

The budget also supports a joint effort of the Treasury Department and the DOL to identify employers who hire “contract labor” in an effort to avoid payroll taxes and skirt the overtime and minimum wage laws. For years, employment lawyers like me have been trying to warn employers that “contract labor” is illegal and that there is a very difficult test for employers to prove that any worker is actually an independent contractor. Those employers who still misclassify employees as contract laborers could face increased possibilities of federal investigators reviewing their books, requiring repayment and charging the businesses large fines.

As an employer, it is your responsibility to assure that you are complying with all the federal laws that will be enforced even more stringently if the 2011 budget passes. You are taking a grave risk if you believe that you are in compliance just because your pay, safety or firing practices are the same as everyone else’s in your industry (who often are doing it wrong too), or if you believe you are proceeding correctly because “that is the way we have always done it,” or if you believe that your employees are not dissatisfied so you must be doing something right. Many of these laws are counter-intuitive, meaning you are probably doing them wrong even if you are using common sense! Don’t assume that you are operating within the bounds of federal employment law unless you have a legal opinion from an experienced employment attorney confirming that.

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