Step Up Investigations of Violations in NYC

Weaknesses in how the state Department of Labor (DOL) investigates labor law violations in New York City have led to significant delays in holding violators accountable and attaining restitution for workers while allowing infractions to continue, according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“Labor law violations, such as wage theft, minimum wage infractions and child labor offenses, are a significant problem both nationally and in New York,” DiNapoli said. “Our audit identified that the DOL must speed up the investigation and resolution of cases. At a time when increased vigilance is needed, the department must do more to ensure labor violations in New York City are addressed promptly.”

In fiscal year 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor found 2,819 minors employed illegally and assessed employers with nearly $3.4 million in civil money penalties. New York’s DOL reported a sharp increase – of 68% – in child labor law violations in the state in 2022 compared with 2021.

Labor investigations cannot be opened until a claim has been reviewed, but DiNapoli’s audit found many claims wait long periods for a determination. The audit reviewed 7,847 claims relating to New York City employers and found many listed as pending for long periods of time. Among them were 354 complaints that went back as far as 2019 and were still open and waiting for a decision as of June 2022 – three years after the complaints were filed.

Delays in completing investigations was particularly acute for child labor cases. Of the 87 child labor cases auditors reviewed, DOL did not meet the 3-month target completion timeline for 56 (64%), including 36 cases that took more than a year to complete or are still in active investigation. Moreover, DOL does not have a process in place to identify which child labor cases involve hazardous employment, which require a more stringent time frame for investigation completion.

Investigations of wage related violations were not completed in the targeted one-year time frame for 80% of the 1,155 cases auditors checked. For 225 cases, the investigation took from over 12 months to 40 months to complete. For 697 cases, the investigations were still active after more than one year.

Auditors also found:
• Active investigations were not reassigned in a timely manner when investigators retired or resigned;
• The manual used by investigators for guidance needs to be updated with new policies and procedures, and;
• A lack of collaboration between DOL and the New York City Department of Education (DOE).

DiNapoli recommended DOL:
• Ensure claims are reviewed promptly and labeled accurately;
• Develop guidelines to identify child labor cases involving instances of hazardous employment;
• Set target completion time frames for all child labor and wage-related case investigations and ensure they are being followed;
• Improve oversight and monitoring, including updating policies, ensuring cases are quickly reassigned when an investigator leaves, and working with the city’s Department of Education on child labor-related issues.

DOL generally agreed with the audit’s findings. The department’s response is included in the report.

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