Over 130 million workers are protected from substandard wages and working conditions by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This act contains specific provisions to ensure that workers are paid the federal minimum wage and for overtime, and that youth are protected from working too many hours and from hazardous conditions. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing employer compliance with FLSA.
From fiscal years 1997 to 2007, the number of WHD’s enforcement actions decreased by more than a third, from approximately 47,000 in 1997 to just under 30,000 in 2007. According to WHD, the total number of actions decreased over this period because of three factors: the increased use of more time-consuming comprehensive investigations, a decrease in the number of investigators, and screening of complaints to eliminate those that may not result in violations. Most of these actions (72 percent) were initiated from 1997 to 2007 in response to complaints from workers. The remaining enforcement actions, which were initiated by WHD, were concentrated in four industry groups: agriculture, accommodation and food services, manufacturing, and health care and social services. WHD’s other two types of compliance activities–partnerships and outreach–constituted about 19 percent of WHD’s staff time based on available data from 2000 to 2007.