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What protections are available to wage and hour whistleblowers?

It is an unfortunate fact that some employers in Washington, D.C., engage in unscrupulous or even illegal acts. Violations of wage and hour laws are just one example of an illegal activity that an employer may engage in, and that an employee may report. It is important to note that the law protects such employees from being retaliated against by their employer for reporting such activity.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must pay all nonexempt workers at least the current minimum wage set by the federal government. In addition, if a worker works overtime, i.e., more than 40 hours in one workweek, that worker must be paid at least time-and-a-half.

If an employer violates these laws, and an employee reports the violation to the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, that employee is protected by the FLSA from employer retaliation. This means that an employer cannot fire or in any other way discriminate against an employee who blows the whistle on wage and hour violations. Discrimination could include demoting the individual, docking his or her wages or reducing the number of hours the worker is entitled to work.

Whistleblowers are protected when they report illegal activity under the FLSA, if they are going to give testimony in proceedings related to the illegal activity or if they are serving or will be serving on an industry committee. It does not matter whether the complaint is a written one or an oral one. In fact, many courts have determined that an employee is even protected under the FLSA, if he or she makes an internal complaint.

If an employee is retaliated against for making a complaint, he or she can turn to the Wage and Hour Division for help by filing a complaint, or he or she can choose to seek compensation through a private lawsuit. Through a lawsuit, a worker can seek to recover lost wages and can pursue reinstatement. Since this post is not to be considered a substitute for the advice of an attorney, employees who feel they have been retaliated against after reporting a wage and hour violation may want to seek legal help.

Source: DOL.gov, "Wage and Hour Division (WHD)," accessed on June 15, 2015

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