An effort by the Biden administration to target a growing number of child labor violations is being weighed down by long-term staffing woes at the agency in charge of investigating such cases.
Since November, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour division lost 16 more investigators, leaving the agency with 794 to police more than 9.8 million workplaces across the US.
One current and one former official, as well as a former staffer at the division, say investigators are so mired in a backlog of cases because of a years-long struggle to retain employees that the agency may not have the bandwidth to fully tackle the child labor enforcement initiative announced by the Biden administration in February. …
But even when the agency brings on new staff, new hires don’t get out in the field and take on child labor cases on Day One because of the amount of time it takes to train investigators on the more than a dozen laws the wage division enforces beyond child labor, said one current WHD official who requested to not be identified to discuss agency matters.
Paul DeCamp, a Wage and Hour administrator during the George W. Bush administration, said that bringing on new hires can stymie the agency’s enforcement work for a time.
“In periods when the agency is doing a lot of hiring, that typically drags down the productivity of the agency for a year or two, because you have to devote agency resources to training up the new folks. So you can overwhelm the agency by bringing on too many people,” said DeCamp, now a management-side attorney with Epstein Becker & Green PC.
As part of the new child labor effort, the agency also is integrating new approaches to its enforcement strategies. The current WHD official said child labor cases require more prep work due to their sensitive nature, such as working with community organizations and schools to gather intel about potential victims, and targeting specific geographical areas where the division is identifying a trend in violations.
It’s also up to the division’s regional arms to decide how enforcement initiatives from headquarters will be implemented on the ground.
“Some investigators are going to have a completely full caseload. They’re slammed, they’re already kind of fully allocated to the matters that they’re dealing with and don’t really have the bandwidth to take on significant new work,” DeCamp explained. “So one of the first things that a district will try to do is figure out from just a workload allocation, bandwidth standpoint, who has room to take this on.”