ATLANTA – During the pandemic, grocery store workers were among those on the front lines whose jobs put them in close contact with others – putting them at greater risk for contracting the coronavirus – while they ensured their neighbors had access to essential goods and services. In return, some of these workers, including many minors, faced wage violations or other workplace hazards.
To educate the Southeast’s grocery industry employers about federal labor laws and conditions that put young workers at risk, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has undertaken an education and enforcement initiative to increase compliance. The agency will host a joint webinar with the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration on June 30 from 1 to 3 p.m. EDT to educate grocery workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities. Click here to register.
From April 2019 through March 2021, the division concluded 325 investigations of grocers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. In 84 percent of those investigations, the division found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The investigations recovered more than $670,000 in back wages for nearly 2,000 workers.
In addition, those investigations led to assessments of more than $150,000 in civil money penalties against employers for violations, most notably child labor infractions. Typically, these violations are the result of minors under age 16 being employed to work outside of the hours the law allows. Violations also occur when employers assign or permit minors to complete tasks the law deems hazardous, as was the case with a minor in Georgia who was injured while cleaning a meat grinder, a prohibited activity.
“The U.S. Department of Labor remains focused on protecting essential workers,” said Wage and Hour Division Regional Administrator Juan Coria in Atlanta. “Minor employees are particularly vulnerable, due to their young age and lack of experience. This initiative will provide the information workers need to understand their rights, and that employers need to understand their responsibilities. Rigorous enforcement will provide additional incentive for employers to ensure they provide workers all of the required protections and play by the rules.”
The division seeks to equip employers with the information and tools they need to comply with these laws, such as our compliance assistance toolkits. It also encourages the public to contact their local Wage and Hour Division office with questions about workers’ and employers’ rights and responsibilities under federal law.
For information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the division, contact the agency toll-free at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, and use its search tool if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.