Last week, the USDOL issued a statement regarding their view of the treatment of retail employees in the workplace. The US DOL believes employees are being cheated out of minimum wage and overtime protections and they are doing something to help single out the offending employers.
The Holiday Season is known as a make or break time of year for retailers. It’s a time to maximize revenues and profits by moving as much merchandise as possible off the shelves, out of the warehouses and into the hands of consumers. While advances in technology and logistics result in goods moving faster and faster through the stream of commerce, human capital continues to be its lifeblood.
Most people who staff sales floors, operate registers, manage inventory, work in warehouses, fill baskets for online consumers and even wrap presents are working for relatively low wages – sometimes the minimum wage. Many are full-time, permanent workers, but many more are hired just for the season.
From corporate executives to small business owners, retailers have come to rely on employing a relatively inexpensive workforce. And most businesses are doing the right thing – playing by the rules and paying their workers the wages to which they are legally entitled.
But economic forces, cost-cutting pressure from shareholders and competition mean that retail workers − whether they’re seasonal hires or old hands − are vulnerable to wage violations. Some employers inadvertently commit such violations, while others deliberately cheat their workers.
In fact, investigations conducted by the Wage and Hour Division last year found that thousands of workers in the retail industry were cheated out of millions of dollars. Specifically, in the 2015 fiscal year, we found more than $12.6 million in back wages for more than 14,500 workers in the industry. That’s almost $900 per worker, about twice the typical retail worker’s weekly earnings. For cashiers and stock clerks, that’s nearly three times what they earn in a week, a lot of money for a low-wage worker.
The Wage and Hour Division investigates complaints that are filed by workers, and we also engage in strategic enforcement efforts to bring about compliance industry wide. But we can’t be in in every workplace, so that’s why every year we also reach out to workers to educate them about their rights, providing guides like our Holiday Season Employment Information.
Retail employees work hard this time of year serving holiday shoppers, strengthening the bottom line for their bosses and keeping the economy going. But they have bills to pay. They need to cover the rent, pay for tuition, child care and transportation, and put food on the table. And they, too, want to purchase gifts for friends and family. They can’t afford to bring home less than what they’re owed. Let’s not forget that when we’re out hunting for bargains or clicking away online that retail workers deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
And if you have questions about wage and hour laws not answered in our holiday guide, contact the USDOL online or by calling 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).
The author of this article, Dr. David Weil, is the administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.
Until Next Time, Be Audit-Secure!