When sexual harassment lawsuits started becoming a major liability issue for employers, many employers sensibly responded by requiring their supervisory employees to go through mandatory anti-harassment training. There is at least some data to suggest that training and other preventive measures have done some good. For example, statistics published on the EEOC’s website (here and here) show a more-or-less steady decline in the number of harassment charges filed with the agency each fiscal year, from a high of 15,889 charges in FY1997 to just 6,822 charges in FY2015.
If sexual harassment lawsuits were the hot topic in employment law a decade or two ago, today it’s wage and hour law. Why? Wage and hour violations don’t require proof of motive or intent. They are easier for plaintiffs to prove, and harder for employers to defend against. The amounts due are often fairly easy to calculate or estimate, and wage and hour violations frequently affect entire classes of employees rather than just individuals. And, unfortunately, the law is deceptively complicated, leading to frequent screw-ups by even well-intentioned employers.
As was the case when employers started confronting sexual harassment on a systemic level, employers today should strongly consider incorporating basic training on wage and hour compliance into their supervisor training programs. Key training topics should include:
- Basics of state and federal overtime law;
- The employer’s policies and practices relating to timekeeping and payroll, and the supervisor’s role in the process;
- How to (legally) control overtime;
- How to spot and prevent potential “off the clock” claims, such as by ensuring that employees don’t work during unpaid breaks or before or after their shift without appropriate compensation;
- How to handle employee questions and complaints regarding pay issues.
The astute observer will note that yes, our firm does provide this sort of training and yes, this is a plea for employers to consider engaging us or someone else knowledgeable in this area to help them develop and implement a training program.
To be clear, we love being in court, and clients tend to pay us a lot more to defend lawsuits than they do to provide periodic training programs or assist with compliance audits. But clients, by and large, don’t like to be in court, and they typically feel that they have better uses for their money than paying lawyers or fees and penalties resulting from avoidable mistakes. So please, do yourself and your organization a favor, and consider adopting a wage and hour training program.