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February 14, 2005
Notice Before Inspections for Wal-Mart

In a settlement of child-labor complaints at Wal-Mart stores, the Department of Labor agreed to give the nation's largest retailer 15 days of notice before it investigates allegations of wage and hour law violations, the New York Times reports.

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Victoria Lipnic, assistant labor secretary for employment standards, tells the newspaper that the agreement applies to only child-labor complaints and would improve the time it takes the company to correct any problems and come into compliance.

Some employees within Wal-Mart and Department of Labor investigators are wondering why the department agreed to give the notice.

"With child labor cases involving the use of hazardous machinery, why give 15 days' notice before we can do an investigation?" asked a district office supervisor who spoke with the newspaper. "What's the rationale?"

While Lipnic says there is nothing unusual about the notice provision, some observers contend that the agreement is different than those offered to other employers.

"Giving the company 15 days' notice of any investigation is very unusual," says John R. Fraser, who served as the government's top wage and hour official under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. "The language appears to go beyond child labor allegations and cover all wage and hour allegations. It appears to put Wal-Mart in a privileged position that to my knowledge no other employer has."

In settling allegations that the company violated child-labor law in Connecticut, Arkansas, and New Hampshire, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $135,540 but denied any wrongdoing, the newspaper reports.

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