Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday to stiffen the penalties for employers who fail to pay overtime to workers, saying they are trying to counter the Trump administration's move to roll back Obama administration regulations that vastly expanded coverage of the federal overtime law.
"It is simply wrong that employers are able to take advantage of their workers and cheat them out of their hard-earned pay, and all too often women, immigrants, and workers of color are those who have to pay the price. While President Trump continues to break campaign promises and roll back worker protections, I'm going to keep fighting so every worker is treated fairly and paid what they've earned. I'm proud to introduce this bill as another step towards building an economy that works for all, not just those at the top," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Murray sponsored the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act with Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Al Franken of Minnesota. Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Bobby Scott of Virginia are sponsoring a corresponding House version. The legislation would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to create a civil penalty of $2,000 for an employer's first violation of overtime or minimum wage laws and $10,000 for each subsequent violation. Penalties currently are capped a $1,100 per violation.
The legislation, which also was introduced last year, would increase the wages that workers must be paid when they seek owed wages to triple the amount owed, up from double under the existing law, among other provisions. It would make class-action suits against employers for lost wages easier by automatically including all employees in the lawsuit unless they opt out.
"The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act is comprehensive legislation that will strengthen current federal law and empower employees to recover their lost wages. Whether it is compensation for a day's work, or overtime, employees should be paid what they earn. This legislation not only protects workers, but it will help our economy grow," DeLauro said.
Federal law says employees must be paid time and a half once they work more than 40 hours in a week. However, businesses may exempt workers from the requirement if their duties are "managerial" in nature and they reach a certain salary threshold.
The Labor Department last year adjusted that threshold, previously $23,000 annually, to more than $47,000. The change was criticized by many Republican lawmakers and business groups, who argued that the change exceeded the department's authority. A Texas judge threw out the rule last year, and the issue is still in court.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta made the first step last month to formally roll back the Obama administration's adjustment of the rule, by reopening public comments on it. Acosta has said the Obama administration went too far in expanding the rule and exceeded its authority under the law.