The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has fined multiple Piggly Wiggly franchises in Mississippi and Alabama for “significant violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor and wage provisions.” According to the DOL report, penalties were assessed to a total of 14 of the popular franchisee-owned grocery stores in Mississippi and Alabama. Eleven stores will pay $52,037 for permitting 31 employees to do hazardous work and seven stores will pay $12,547 in back wages to 56 employees who were denied proper compensation under the law. These locations allowed children to perform hazardous tasks such as loading and operating power-driven scrap paper balers and paper box compactors. In addition, the FLSA was violated through illegal deductions in pay that forced the hourly rate below the federal minimum wage, failing to compensate for rest breaks, and misclassification of employees as exempt.
The recent investigation into various Piggly Wiggly locations illustrates the crackdown by the Department of Labor on southern chain grocery stores. The director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Gulf Coast district office commented that, “We are concerned about the large population of low-wage and vulnerable workers, particularly minors, employed by grocery stores in Alabama and Mississippi at which the division has found significant child labor violations.” Locations fined were located in Ashville, Bay Minette, Phenix City, Troy, Alexander City, Camden, Jemison, Cherokee, Northport and Evergreen in Alabama and Vicksburg, Canton, Pickens and Tylertown in Mississippi.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is federal legislation that sets minimum standards for overtime pay, minimum wage, recordkeeping, and child labor throughout the United States. The FLSA requires employers to compensate non-exempt employees at least the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25/hr) and overtime pay of one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay for every hour worked over 40 in a single workweek. It also sets stringent minimum requirements for child labor and recordkeeping.
Though the FLSA sets federal standards for labor practices, states may pass their own legislation to raise the requirements for employers in that specific state. Because of this, labor laws in different areas of the country can be quite confusing, and many question whether they are actually receiving the compensation they deserve under the law. If you have reason to believe that your employer may be violating the FLSA or state employment laws, contact a knowledgeable FLSA lawyer to see if you might be entitled to receive back wages for under-payment or unpaid overtime.