The newly appointed Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, issued a statement on March 24, 2009 that the Department of Labor is renewing its efforts to enforce labor laws across the country. With the addition of 250 field investigators provided to the DOL under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, businesses can be assured of increased audits.

As the Ohio’s Employer’s Blog points out, a DOL audit can feel like an unpleasant medical exam and employers need to be proactive about compliance. Except, I must add, one difference between the medical exam and DOL audit is that you can buy insurance to cover the costs of the medical exam.

In California, employers should review their pay practices, including that employees are paid on time and receive at least the minimum wage for California. For example, employers should insure they are complying with meal and rest break requirements, properly recording meal breaks and the employees’ time worked, properly paying overtime, and reimbursing employees for all business related expenses. Employers employing minors should also carefully examine the child-labor laws applicable to their business, as these requirements are extremely detailed and many well-intentioned employers may still be in violation.

Businesses should also audit whether they have properly classified their exempt employees and independent contractors. A misclassified employee can create a huge amount of liability for a business, as the misclassified employee is entitled to damages for overtime pay, penalties, interest, and their attorney’s fees.

Employers need to be proactive about complying with these complex wage and hour laws. If cost is a concern, complete an in-house audit and then have an attorney double check the policies and practices. It will cost a lot more to contact an attorney after the DOL is in your workplace or the lawsuit has already been filed.