Eighty percent of recent investigations into nursing facilities, residential care centers, home health providers and similar employers led to proven violations, the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division announced Wednesday.

Wage and Hour investigations recovered more than $28.6 million in back wages and damages for nearly 25,000 workers since it launched a focused initiative in 2021. It has led to assessments of nearly $1.3 million in civil monetary penalties for employers who willfully violated federal law, according to the DOL

Long-term care operators have been responsible for a healthy slice of those findings and penalties, as McKnight’s has recently reported. The DOL said it completed more than 1,600 provider investigations.

To avoid stiff civil penalties, nursing home operators need to ensure staff training is a priority and legal counsel and human resources are engaged in the payroll process, a sector expert said Wednesday.

Providers should make sure their legal counsel and HR department conduct periodic wage and hour audits for compliance, advised Julia Eiland, MBA, vice president of consulting, people, and culture at Health Dimensions Group, in an interview with McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

“Reviewing how employees record time is extremely important, especially in the current staffing environment, where many providers ask employees to pick up extra shifts,” Eiland said.

“In addition, providers need to ensure employees are correctly classified when it comes to being exempt versus non-exempt, as there are specific guidelines that must be met. The desire to classify someone as a salaried employee because of the high number of hours they work does not meet the requirements.”

The goal is to ensure employees are paid in accordance with all wage and hour laws and employers are protected from Fair Labor Standards Act violations.

Compliance food for thought

Eiland cautioned that providers must pay close attention to their meal-break policies. The DOL tends to scrutinize automatic meal deductions policies, she added. In general, most managers and staff schedulers responsible for employees’ timekeeping are not well-versed in wage and hour laws, she observed. 

“Therefore, it is imperative that fundamental training is provided to these groups of people to ensure employees are appropriately paid, and they understand that not doing so can result in violations, fees and costly litigation,” she added.

The most common violations discovered by investigators relate to failures to pay overtime or federal minimum wages, and the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, DOL officials said. 

The initiative also found that violations often hurt women of color, particularly in the Black, African American, Hispanic and Asian (including Filipina)communities. They are often employed as home care aides, certified nursing aides and licensed practical nurses, the release noted.

“In the U.S., women make up nearly 80% of the people employed in healthcare and social assistance, and most are women of color, notably Black women,” Wage and Hour Division Principal Deputy Administrator Jessica Looman said in the announcement.

“[T]oo many find themselves working for employers who deprive them of their full wages and benefits they’ve earned for their hard work. We are determined to make sure these workers’ rights are respected and protected.”

The division also conducts outreach programs to educate workers and employers about their respective rights and responsibilities under federal law, and how to report and avoid violations of federal law.