Enforcement of State Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws:
Published in Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal
Resources, Procedures, and Outcomes
By Irene Lurie, Senior Fellow
ABSTRACT: Recent studies showing limited enforcement of wage and hour laws in low-wage industries have focused primarily on the efforts of the federal government. Far less attention has been paid to understanding and comparing the resources and procedures of the state agencies enforcing their own minimum wage and overtime laws.
To learn more about the states’ enforcement efforts, Lurie interviewed the administrators of responsible agencies in 18 states. She asked about staff resources, enforcement procedures, and what the laws become in practice — as measured by the volume of enforcement activity and the results of that activity.
The study found that many states have authority to protect low-wage workers that is equal to, and in some states even greater than, federal authority. State labor laws fill gaps in coverage left by federal law, and some raise the minimum wage above the federal level. It is state law that requires employers to pay their employees on a regular basis. Almost half the state agencies have greater administrative authority to recover unpaid wages, using procedures that could serve as models for the federal agency.
But while a number of states were aggressive in pursuing egregious violators, the majority enforced the law passively in response to workers’ complaints, and a few did not enforce the law at all.
States’ efforts to implement their minimum wage, overtime and wage payment laws varied greatly, more than the laws themselves. Like the federal government, the state agencies responsible for enforcing labor laws struggled with insufficient staff. But while their current capacity to enforce their laws is constrained by a lack of resources, their potential authority to protect low-wage workers is powerful and deserves greater attention by analysts and policymakers.