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November 19, 2004
Workers Fight Off-the-Clock Work

The practice of requiring employees to perform unpaid work is under more scrutiny as workers at a wide variety of companies accuse their employers of one of the more common violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the New York Times reports.

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The newspaper interviewed 50 workers who accused their employers of requiring off-the-clock work. The workers say the employers try to cut down on labor costs by making employees do unpaid work before and after their shifts. The workers tell the newspaper that the practice occurred at 12 employers, including supermarkets, discount stores, and restaurants. The employers with which the newspaper spoke denied the allegations.

"It is prevalent," Alfred Robinson, director of the wage and hour division of the Labor Department, tells the newspaper. "It is one of the more common violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act."

Experts tell the newspaper that managers are under growing pressure to reduce labor costs, which has increased the prevalence of the unlawful practice.

"There's more of this stuff going on than 10 and 20 and especially 30 and 40 years ago," says David Lewin, a human resources professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. "There are a lot of incentives to engage in these kinds of practices, because they result in higher profits for the company and they can lead to higher bonuses for local managers."

However, employers dispute the contention that the practice of requiring unpaid work is prevalent, the newspaper notes. Employers say they have strict policies against off-the-clock work.

"In most cases, the allegations you hear about involve individual managers who are acting to enhance the profitability of their own units, rather than reflecting any companywide practices or policies," says Steven Drapkin, a lawyer for the Employers Group.

One of the most high-profile cases involves allegations against Wal-Mart. In a class-action lawsuit, Wal-Mart employees in Washington accuse the company of forcing workers to perform unpaid work.

The company denies the allegations.

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