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{Labor Department often mishandles workplace complaints, probe finds} {GAO reports lapses including slow response times, failure to record wage and other complaints in a database and falsely reporting investigations.}

March 25, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Labor Department regularly bungles its handling of complaints from workers who say their bosses are cheating them on overtime pay or committing other labor violations, an undercover investigation found.

The probe by the Government Accountability Office says agency officials often took too long to respond to complaints, failed to record them and, in one instance, lied about investigative work that was never performed.

"This investigation shows that the Department of Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn," GAO investigator Gregory Kutz said in prepared testimony.

The House Education and Labor Committee plans to hold a hearing on the investigation today. To test the agency's intake process, GAO investigators posed as workers or companies on 10 occasions. Kutz said the agency mishandled nine out of 10 of the fake complaints.

In one of the complaints, a meatpacker reported children using heavy machinery at a California company. But four months later, officials had not begun to investigate and never even recorded the complaint in a database, as required.

Another case involved a caller, supposedly a convenience store clerk, who left seven telephone messages to complain about not receiving a paycheck. Staff in the Wage and Hour division never returned the calls and never recorded the complaint.

Half the complaints were never even recorded in a database, as required, and two of the 10 were marked as successfully paid even though the fictitious workers reported they had not been paid, Kutz said.

The investigation -- from July through this month -- follows up on a similar study last year that found the Labor Department ill-equipped to respond to worker complaints about labor violations.

The latest probe found major flaws in the way the agency takes in and processes complaints.

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