According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor, claims of wage and hour violations are at record levels. Indeed, data shows steady increases over the past decade in the federal judicial caseload involving claimants who allege overtime violations and other breaches of employment laws.
Wage and hour lawsuits under the Fair Labor Standards Act have more than tripled since 2002. Economic difficulties, increased enforcement by federal regulators and employer disregard of overtime laws all factor into the trend.
The Department of Labor's wage and hour division collected nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in back wages last year on behalf of over a quarter of a million employees nationwide. Legal commentators explain the importance of class actions for taking on the problem of "unremedied wage theft" by employers from employees who earn low wages.
Economic downturns may lead to exploitation of employees because they are expected to take on extra duties left behind by laid-off colleagues. Misclassification of workers as being exempt from FLSA overtime laws and the threat of job loss can make it easy for employers to squeeze more than 40 hours of work from workers without paying overtime wages.
Another reason cited for the increase: federal and state employment statutes have failed to keep pace with changes in technology that have altered the average work day. The promise of massive damages awards may be one more significant factor that has inspired workers to assert their rights.