WASHINGTON — Workers’ complaints about being denied overtime pay, wages and job leave guaranteed by law rose this year to the highest level in four years, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Penalties for violations and awards of back wages fell.
The department’s Wage and Hour Division received 31,786 worker complaints in the federal budget year that ended Sept. 30. That compared with 31,123 complaints in 2003.
The increase came as the department was putting in place overtime rules that Democrats warned would strip rights to premium pay for millions of workers. The Bush administration said that more than 100,000 workers, but not millions, could lose overtime pay rights.
Wage and Hour Administrator Al Robinson said a growing work force accounted for much of the increase in worker complaints about overtime pay, minimum wage, child labor and Family Medical Leave Act violations.
The number of investigators in the division was down slightly in the past year, although the department could not immediately provide figures. Robinson said that had little effect on the decline in penalties and back wages.
The division assessed nearly $9 million in civil penalties in the past year, compared with nearly $10 million in 2003. It collected $196.7 million in back wages, down from $212.5 million in 2003. Much of it involved overtime violations.
Employers pushed for this year’s revisions to the Fair Labor Standards Act to help slow the number of successful lawsuits by workers who claimed they illegally were denied overtime pay.
The impact of the new rules, which took effect in August, is difficult to measure. The Labor Department says employers are reporting that more employees have become newly eligible for overtime pay, and few have lost it.