NEWS15 April 2010

Western Wats pays $500k fine over child labour violations

Legal North America

US— Fieldwork agency Western Wats has paid $500,000 in civil money penalties after a Department of Labor investigation ruled that the firm had breached child labour laws.

The Labor Department set the fine last year having identified violations of time and hours standards in connection with the employment of 1,482 minors at Western Wats call centres in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Idaho.

Three of the minors were 13 years old and the rest, who were “primarily employed as interviewers” were either 14 or 15. Violations cited by the Labor Department included children working more than three hours on school days and more than eight hours at weekends. US labour laws also state that children of 13 can only work on farms.

Western Wats appealed against the fine, with lawyers stating at the time that the firm disputed “the extent and severity of the claimed violations” and that “the work was performed in a safe environment and provided an excellent employment experience”.

In a statement issued today, Western Wats said: “This matter was fully and amicably settled in December of 2009. By then we had implemented a full remediation plan, which is fully operational.

“In early 2009, the DOL [Department of Labor] audited more than 20,000 employees’ millions of individual timecards from 2007 to 2008. The violations they found were almost exclusively technical in nature.

“Long before the settlement, Western Wats had already instituted policies and procedures to make sure that these kinds of infractions never happen again. Our process enhancements include a new end-to-end timecard and payroll system. And as of 2009, we now hire individuals only 18 or older.

“In fact, in 2009, after we implemented our thorough solution set, we commissioned both a prominent law firm and a prominent accounting firm to independently conduct audits on the company, and they have both found total compliance on all issues.

“Please note, the DOL has stated that our conduct was not wilful, meaning we did not seek to violate the standards in any way.”

The fine paid by Western Wats is among the highest of its kind ever assessed by the Labor Department.