The U.S. Labor Department is launching an outreach and enforcement effort in Iowa to make sure workers in the lawn care and landscaping industry are being properly paid. Percella Maupins, the department’s wage hour district director in Des Moines, says they’ll combat violations of federal minimum wage and overtime pay regulations in an industry that typically employs low-wage workers.

Maupins says they’re not targeting individual employers but the industry overall, to find out who is paying properly and if they’re not, educate them about the laws and make sure they come into compliance. Lawn care and landscaping companies will be chosen at random for full reviews. She says the Labor Department has been focusing its efforts on the industry in Iowa for several years.

Of those businesses that have been investigated, Maupins says only 44-percent were in compliance, meaning 56-percent of them were in violation of the law, typically not paying overtime to employees and in some cases, hiring minors contrary to what the law allows. She says companies need to know they’re required to pay employees the federal minimum wage and overtime at time-and-a-half the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours per week.

"Sometimes what employers do, they’ll pay employees on a salary and believe that the salary is sufficient for all of the hours that they work and it generally is not, unless that employee happens to be exempt under certain standards," Maupins says. "Sometimes the employer will pay employees in cash for the hours that they work beyond 40 and of course, that would be in violation of the law as well."

She says child labor laws in lawn care and landscaping are also very specific. Anyone under 16 is forbidden from using motorized equipment, including most lawn mowers, hedge trimmers and weed-wackers. The rules are less strict for children 16 and older. Maupins says some workers may fear they’ll lose their jobs if they blow the whistle on a stingy employer. She says the identity of anyone who contacts them is protected. For more information, call the Department of Labor helpline at 866-US-WAGE or visit the website: "www.wagehour.dol.gov".