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ASG forks over more than $900K in unpaid overtime

The U.S. Department of Labor says the American Samoa Government has paid more than $900,000 in back wages to government employees, resolving the findings of an investigation conducted by its Wage and Hour Division in 2011.


"We appreciate the cooperation of the American Samoa government in developing a compliance plan and for assisting in this investigation by identifying workers who were underpaid," said Terence Trotter, director of the division's Honolulu District Office, which handled the investigation.


The federal agency says ASG paid $916,093 in back wages to 256 employees, most of them police officers with the Department of Public Safety. According to USDOL, investigators found that some employees' overtime hours were paid at a straight-time rate instead of at one and one-half times their regular rates of pay, as required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.


Investigators also found that certain employees were not paid for all of their overtime hours worked, said USDOL in a brief notice in its weekly newsletter distributed late last week.


It was more than a week ago that the local Treasury Department started releasing checks to the employees who were owed back wages. Funds to pay the back wages were included in the $5 million FY 2013 supplemental budget appropriation approved by the Fono and signed into law by the governor in April this year.


“Employers must accurately record employees’ work hours, and that must include work time that may not have been scheduled in advance,” Trotter told Samoa News this week. “Whenever the overtime hours are accrued, compensation should always be computed at time and one-half the regular rate of pay.”


“This is an opportunity for various government branches in American Samoa to review their practices to ensure they are following the rules correctly,” he said via e-mail from Honolulu on Tuesday. “It is important for employees to be paid according to the law for all the hours worked, including overtime earnings.”


He also says that the ASG’s cooperation in this matter expressed via  Executive Order 005-2013, “was crucial”.


“It demonstrates a plan of corrective action that aligns local labor policies with the federal FLSA,” said Trotter. “USDOL has the option to use additional enforcement tools, including filing a complaint in [federal] district court.  The commitment to formally address the issues allowed us to resolve the back wages without filing a complaint.”


The executive order referred to by Trotter was issued by the Governor in February this year in compliance with the USDOL administrative settlement. The order calls for an ASG Corrective Action Plan to ensure full compliance when it comes to federal labor laws in American Samoa.


ASG agreed in the administrative settlement to resolve the matter by bringing itself into compliance with FLSA, said Lolo, who noted that the settlement requires ASG to pay back wages to the affected employees, to adjust current compensatory time calculation and to adopt a “Plan of Corrective Action” to correct policies and practices in ASG to avoid further FLSA violations.


Asked about some of the conditions imposed by USDOL on its agreement with ASG to follow in the future, in order to avoid the same problem from reoccurring, Trotter said, “government has to accurately document all the time that employees work and change the overtime compensation policies to equal 1.5 hours for each recorded overtime hour worked.”


Federal penalties are imposed on an employer who fails to fully comply with federal labor law, repeat offenders of the minimum wage and overtime laws as well as those who knowingly violate the wage provisions of the FLSA, and all are subject to civil money penalties, according to Trotter.


“There are a number of factors that determine penalties, such as the number of employees impacted by the violations and whether the wage violations are repeated or willful, among others,” he said.