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House Democrats want DOL penalties to have more bite

Photo: Education & Labor Committee Democrats

Washington — Legislation aimed at strengthening Department of Labor civil penalties will be introduced soon, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) announced April 30.

The announcement from Scott, ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, came on the same day committee Democrats released a report titled A Slap on the Wrist: How It Pays for Unscrupulous Employers to Take Advantage of Workers.

The report notes that although the maximum monetary penalty assessed to an employer after a worker death is slightly more than $160,000, the median penalty assessed after such incidents is around $14,000. That’s roughly the median “car allowance” for some CEOs.

“Regrettably, civil monetary penalties for labor and employment laws are egregiously low,” the report states, “to the point that if an employer is caught committing a labor violation, the penalty amounts to the ‘cost of doing business’ rather than a deterrent.

“It should not be the case that the median penalty assessed on a workplace where a worker is tragically killed is less than the monetary perk that certain CEOs are provided to drive their cars.”

As another example, child labor law violations have a maximum monetary penalty of $15,629. In contrast, the maximum penalty for a defective consumer product is $120,000 per violation and $17 million for a series of violations.

“It is not right that the penalty for illegally hiring children for dangerous jobs is just a fraction of what can be assessed for the unsafe toys with which kids may play,” the report states. “Congress must act to responsibly raise civil monetary penalties for labor violations. Worker rights and protections are not mere suggestions. To ensure workers and children are protected, the cost of violating the law should not amount to a slap on the wrist.”

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