US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division

US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division

US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division

The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is a division within the United States Department of Labor that enforces federal labor laws concerning wages, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor. The WHD plays a crucial role in ensuring workers are paid fairly and have safe workplace conditions.

Overview of the Wage and Hour Division

The Wage and Hour Division was established in 1938 under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). It is responsible for administering and enforcing some of America’s most comprehensive federal labor laws, including minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards.

The WHD aims to promote and achieve compliance with labor standards to protect vulnerable workers and level the playing field for responsible employers. It enforces the FLSA and other acts like the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, Employee Polygraph Protection Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Davis-Bacon and related acts, and the Service Contract Act.

Over 1,300 investigators stationed across the US carry out investigations and gather data on wages, hours, and other employment conditions or practices to determine compliance. When violations are found, the WHD can recover back wages and liquidated damages for workers. Willful or repeated violations can also result in civil money penalties or litigation.

The division provides guidance and support to employers on compliance. It also offers many useful resources about wage and hour laws for workers and employers on its website. Overall, the WHD aims to balance promoting both worker rights and employer success.

Major Functions and Responsibilities

The Wage and Hour Division administers and enforces some key federal labor laws covering over 143 million workers in more than 10 million establishments nationwide. Key functions include:

  • Enforcing federal minimum wage - Currently $7.25 per hour since 2009. Ensures covered non-exempt workers are paid at least the minimum wage.
  • Enforcing overtime pay requirements - Covered non-exempt employees must be paid 1.5 times their regular hourly rate for overtime hours beyond 40 in a workweek.
  • Determining exempt vs non-exempt status - Conducts duties tests to determine whether employees qualify for FLSA overtime and minimum wage protections.
  • Enforcing child labor provisions - Protects young workers with limits on hours and occupations based on age.
  • Ensuring nursing mothers’ rights - Requires breaks and space for nursing mothers to pump breast milk.
  • Collecting back wages and damages - Holds employers liable for any wages denied or lost due to violations.
  • Civil money penalties - Assesses fines for repeat and willful violators.
  • Responding to complaints - Accepts and investigates complaints of violations from workers.
  • Education and outreach - Provides compliance assistance and conducts informational programs.
  • Supporting litigation - Initiates litigation against employers found to have significant overtime or minimum wage violations.

By fulfilling these responsibilities, the Wage and Hour Division aims to protect worker rights, improve workplace conditions, and support fair market competition.

Major Laws Enforced

The Wage and Hour Division enforces a wide range of federal labor laws. Some of the major laws under their jurisdiction include:

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child labor standards. It ensures covered non-exempt workers are paid at least minimum wage for the first 40 hours and overtime for additional hours during a workweek.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA requires certain employers to provide eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid but job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA)

The MSPA protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers through employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and recordkeeping.

Davis-Bacon and Related Acts (DBRA)

The DBRA requires payment of local prevailing wages and benefits on certain federally funded construction projects to promote fair competition.

Service Contract Act (SCA)

The SCA requires contractors and subcontractors performing services on certain federal contracts in excess of $2,500 to pay service employees prevailing wage rates and benefits.

Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA)

The EPPA prohibits most private sector employers from using lie detector tests for pre-employment screening or during employment.

Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA)

The CCPA includes wage garnishment restrictions that limit the amount of earnings that may be garnished in any workweek.

Enforcing these and other laws to protect workers and ensure fair competition is central to the mission of the WHD.

Wage and Hour Investigations

The Wage and Hour Division conducts investigations to enforce federal labor laws under its jurisdiction. Some key facts about WHD investigations include:

  • Investigations may be initiated from complaints or proactively from agency-identified priorities.
  • Approximately 80% of WHD investigations result from employee complaints. The rest are targeted proactive investigations.
  • Complaints can be filed verbally or in writing. The complainant’s identity is kept confidential.
  • Investigators interview employees privately about pay practices and review time and payroll records.
  • If violations are found, employers are notified and required to pay back wages and any damages owed. Fines may also be assessed.
  • Settlements are sought, but WHD can litigate employers who refuse to comply.
  • Findings are confidential unless litigation occurs. Settlements are mutually agreed upon.
  • Employers can request a review if they disagree with investigative findings.
  • Willful or repeat FLSA violators may face civil penalties of up to $1,964 per violation along with back wages.
  • Real names of complainants are not disclosed even in litigation.

The Wage and Hour Division does not handle discrimination or workplace safety issues, which fall under the EEOC and OSHA respectively. Overall, the threat of investigations and penalties encourages compliance with worker protections.

Compliance Assistance Provided

Along with enforcement, the Wage and Hour Division also focuses heavily on compliance assistance and education. Some initiatives include:

Opinion Letters

Official opinion letters are issued in response to specific employer queries to provide guidance on FLSA compliance. They indicate how WHD will apply the law in certain circumstances.

Rulings and Interpretations

General guidance is provided through Administrator Interpretations and fact sheets on topics like independent contracting and regular rate of pay calculations.

Outreach Seminars

Free seminars are conducted to educate employers, workers, unions and more on wage and hour laws. Webinars are also offered in multiple languages.

Revised Publications

Guidance publications like fact sheets, brochures, posters and booklets are updated regularly and available on the website.

Small Business Assistance

Dedicated small business representatives work closely with small business owners to facilitate compliance and answer questions.

Cooperative Programs

Voluntary programs create proactive partnerships with stakeholders like employers, unions, and employee advocacy groups on compliance.

Multi-lingual Education

Materials and seminars are offered in Spanish and other languages to reach underserved communities.

By informing workers and employers on relevant laws and promoting voluntary compliance, the WHD aims to prevent violations before they happen.

Wage and Hour Division Organization

The Wage and Hour Division is headquartered in Washington D.C under the Assistant Secretary for Labor of Wage and Hour. Regional and district offices are present nationwide.

  • 2 national offices coordinate agency administration, regulations, and policies.
  • 5 regional offices each oversee multiple district offices within their designated geographic area.
  • Over 60 district and area field offices across the US handle local enforcement and outreach.
  • Southwest and Southeast regions have the highest concentration of offices due to agriculture and tourism industries.

Investigators, technicians, supervisors and administrators conduct enforcement, compliance assistance, and staff training regionally. Partnerships are also formed with state labor departments.

With both national coordination and local offices, the WHD strives to promote compliance nationally while responding regionally to labor issues.

Trends in Wage and Hour Enforcement

Wage and hour enforcement by the division has reflected evolving economic trends and administration priorities:

  • Expanding industries like healthcare, gig economy, and hospitality now make up growing shares of WHD cases.
  • Average back wages collected per investigation increased from $432 in 2001 to $915 in 2021 reflecting greater violations.
  • Overtime for salaried employees is now a priority area with a rising share of white-collar roles covered by updated laws.
  • 95% of WHD penalties in 2021 were for repeat child labor violators as opposed to 60% in 2016.
  • FY 2022 saw a spike in FLSA complaints particularly in the Southeast relating to pandemic recovery job shifts.
  • Total back wages distributed exceeded $300 million in 2021 due to new investigators hired in recent years.
  • WHD is focused on strengthening industry-specific guidance in 2023 on topics like remote work stipends.

The Wage and Hour Division continuously adapts its enforcement approach based on evolving economic trends, labor issues, and policy priorities.

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Notable Wage and Hour Cases

Some major recent cases investigated by the Wage and Hour Division include:

  • A 2021 investigation into Nebraska meatpacker Greater Omaha Packing resulting in $500,000 in back pay for 354 workers denied overtime.
  • The Upper Crust pizza chain was fined $692,000 in 2020 for FLSA overtime and child labor violations across multiple locations.
  • Lawson Software misclassified account managers as exempt leading to a $2 million settlement in 2021 for over 500 employees.
  • Sunspray Car Wash paid $450,000 in back wages and damages to over 100 workers in 2022 for off-the-clock work violations.
  • Vermillion Inc, an Illinois trucking company, paid a $1.4 million penalty in 2021for falsifying payroll records to avoid paying overtime.
  • Environmental safety company GeoVentures paid $485,000 in back wages in 2022 to misclassified field technicians wrongly denied overtime.
  • Washington state berry farm Sarbanand Farms faced DOL litigation in 2018 for denying minimum wage to H-2A seasonal workers.

Through its investigations of both small businesses and large corporations, the WHD aims to protect vulnerable low-wage workers from wage theft and denial of rights. Publicizing findings also promotes voluntary compliance industry-wide.

Filing a Wage and Hour Complaint

Workers who believe their employer has violated wage and hour laws can file confidential complaints with the WHD in the following ways:


Complaint forms can be filled and submitted securely on the WHD website. Supporting documents can also be attached.


Toll-free contacts for local offices are available to call and speak to investigators who can take verbal complaints.


Visiting the nearest Wage and Hour Division office allows meeting investigators in-person to discuss wage issues and file a complaint.


Detailed letters with allegations and copies of supporting documents may be mailed to the closest WHD office. The addresses can be found online.

Once received, complaints are reviewed by WHD investigators who determine if an investigation is merited based on the allegations and evidence. The complainant’s identity is kept fully confidential throughout the process. Workers who face retaliation for complaints may be entitled to legal relief or damages.

Filing an FLSA Exemption Appeal

Employees or employers can also file appeals with the WHD if they disagree with determinations regarding whether a job is exempt from FLSA overtime and minimum wage provisions. The appeals process includes:

  • A written request must be filed within 60 days of the determination.
  • Supplemental information can be provided to support the appeal.
  • WHD regional officials who were not involved in the original determination will review the appeal. This may involve additional investigation.
  • A decision on the appeal will be provided in writing explaining the conclusions reached.
  • If still unsatisfied, an administrative hearing can be requested which is reviewed by officials in the national office.

Though time-consuming, this appeals process aims to thoroughly re-examine contested determinations to ensure appropriate conclusions are ultimately reached in important exemption cases.

The Future of Wage and Hour Regulation

Looking ahead, the Wage and Hour Division is likely to focus on:

  • Expanding outreach and simplified guidance for small businesses and underserved worker communities.
  • Adapting enforcement strategies to reflect the growth of remote work and the gig economy.
  • Increasing collaborations with unions and worker advocacy groups around compliance.
  • Updating regulations around expanding FLSA coverage to more workers.
  • Strengthening penalties and supervised compliance programs for repeat violators.
  • Building online complaint submission systems and self-audit tools for employers.

As workplace norms and business models continue evolving, the Wage and Hour Division will play a key role in shaping federal wage and hour regulations to protect workers while supporting ethical employers and job growth. World Bank Day 2024

Wage and Hour Division - FAQ

Q: What is the Wage and Hour Division?

A: The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is the division of the US Department of Labor that administers and enforces federal laws on minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor, and other workplace standards.

Q: What federal laws does the WHD enforce?

A: Key laws enforced by the WHD include the Fair Labor Standards Act, Family Medical Leave Act, Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, Davis-Bacon Act, and others.

Q: How can I file a complaint with the WHD?

A: Complaints about wage and hour violations can be filed online, by phone, mail or in-person at the nearest WHD office. Complainants are kept confidential.

Q: What are some typical FLSA violations investigated?

A: Common violations include failure to pay minimum wage or overtime correctly, misclassifying employees as exempt from overtime, forcing off-the-clock work, and illegal deductions from wages.

Q: Can employees appeal determinations of exempt status?

A: Yes, both employees and employers can appeal exempt status determinations made during WHD investigations by filing written requests.

Q: Does the WHD provide outreach and education?

A: Yes, the WHD offers many free seminars, publishes guidance materials, operates small business programs, and more to facilitate legal compliance.

Q: How does one contact the WHD for questions on wage and hour laws?

A: The WHD can be contacted online to ask questions and request compliance assistance. Local offices can also be called or visited in-person.

Q: What industries see the most WHD enforcement?

A: Industries like restaurants, healthcare, retail, hospitality, gig economy, construction and agriculture have a large WHD presence due to high rates of violations.

Q: What are the penalties for violating wage and hour laws?

A: Remedies can include back pay, liquidated damages for underpaid wages, reinstatement of employment, civil money penalties, and potential litigation.


In summary, the Wage and Hour Division plays a vital role in protecting the rights of America's workers by enforcing crucial federal wage and labor laws. Through compliance assistance, investigations, penalties for violators, and more, the WHD aims to ensure fair wages, prevent wage theft, set workplace standards, and level the playing field for law-abiding employers. As workplace norms and laws continue to evolve, the WHD will need to adapt its education, regulation, and enforcement strategies to fulfill its mission. Workers and employers who have questions or want to report potential violations can contact the WHD through hotlines, online forms, emails, and local offices spread throughout the country.

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