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What is the prevalence/severity of FLSA violations?

Designing the National Worker Survey

Challenge

Low-wage workers are a hard-to-reach population as there is no sample frame of workers in low-wage industries and a large sample of them would need to be screened. They likely represent only a small percentage of the population and may be less likely to respond because of their mobility.

Measuring labor law violations in a survey is complex. There are many types of violations, and a survey cannot rely on workers’ knowledge of the law to determine whether a violation occurred. The survey requires addressing both coverage bias and measurement error while balancing methodological rigor against the resources available.

For the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Westat will design and conduct the needed survey. Our team members have direct experience designing surveys to measure issues related to employment law and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violations, as well as experience designing and conducting surveys on labor law.

Solution

Our survey design includes an address-based sampling (ABS) method that can provide overall prevalence estimates. Then we use respondent-driven sampling (RDS) to enable more accurate estimates for workers in low-wage industries. A nationally representative survey of workers in low-wage industries has never been conducted before to estimate the prevalence of FLSA violations, and the hybrid design is an innovative approach to surveying low-wage workers.

To assess design and procedures among workers in low-wage industries, we conduct formative research with purposively selected workers in the low-wage industries to understand their social networks, communications behaviors, preferences for an RDS study, and likely challenges and solutions.

Existing national labor market surveys have been used to estimate minimum wage violations, but these estimates have measurement error due to the limitations of the survey questions. Most notably, overtime, tips, and commissions are combined, making it impossible to determine the base wage with tips and commissions but not overtime. Our survey will ask questions about earnings that separate tips and commissions from overtime pay to provide a more accurate measure of minimum wage violations.

Results

The survey design will provide nationally representative prevalence estimates of FSLA violations among all nonexempt workers who are covered by the Act. This design will also provide estimates for higher paid workers who are covered by overtime protections but who may experience overtime and other violations. Second, it will provide nationally representative estimates of FLSA violations among workers in key low-wage industries who are most at risk for minimum wage violations.

This approach includes several advantages, including the estimation of the prevalence of overtime violations for higher paid workers filling a gap that exists from current national sources. The design proposed includes an ABS method that can provide overall prevalence estimates with RDS to enable more accurate estimates for workers in low-wage industries.

A nationally representative survey of workers in low-wage industries to estimate the prevalence of FLSA violations has never been conducted, and the hybrid design is an innovative approach to surveying low-wage workers. The hybrid approach allows us to compare the estimates from the ABS for the key low-wage industries to those from the RDS to gauge how similar the RDS estimates are to those from a probability sample.

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