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Wal-Mart Is Subject of State Labor Probe

June 10, 2003|Lisa Girion | Times Staff Writer

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Monday that California labor officials are investigating the company's alleged failures to comply with state wage and hour laws.

The disclosure in Wal-Mart's quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission did not specify the nature of the alleged violations. However, a company spokeswoman said the California Department of Labor Standards and Enforcement is reviewing Wal-Mart's compliance with meal break requirements.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said the investigation began in December, and the company has been in discussions with enforcement officials for about three months.

"This is no different from any other compliance review that other employers go through," Williams said. "They are simply reviewing our records to see if we comply. They have filed no complaint."

The nation's largest retailer is the target of wage-and-hour lawsuits in several states. A suit in California, filed in Alameda County in December 2001, accuses the company of forcing hourly employees to skip meal breaks and work "off the clock." The lawsuit also accuses the company's Wal-Mart discount stores and Sam's Club food warehouses of failing to pay supervisory workers overtime.

The suit was filed as a proposed statewide class action, which Wal-Mart is fighting. "Each case is highly individualized, and we feel they cannot be addressed by a class action," Williams said.

The state labor department has not indicated to Wal-Mart whether it is investigating the lawsuit's off-the-clock and overtime allegations.

The labor department has the authority to investigate all three claims and can force violators to pay back employees.

Workers who do not receive a half-hour meal break during an 8-hour shift are entitled to an extra hour of pay, said Dennis Moss, an employment lawyer with Spiro Moss Barness Harrison & Barge.

State labor investigations are rare, however, because the department is short-staffed, private employment lawyers say.

Officials for the state labor department did not return calls.

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