The Department of Labor (DOL) is now enjoying a 71-percent success rate in ferreting out wage-and-hour violators by targeting industry- and geography-based culprits rather than waiting for complaints from employees at individual sites.

The DOL is calling its new approach "directed investigations," which it instituted in 2012 after observing an "epidemic" of minimum-wage and overtime violations by employers. It now targets businesses by industry and geography for blanket investigations rather than fielding just single complaints (which it continues to do as well).

This approach was confirmed during a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) at a conference in New York, where Patricia Smith, DOL solicitor, was a featured speaker.

"Workers around the country, especially low-wage workers, are being denied minimum wage and overtime," she said. "Right now I think what we see is nothing short of an epidemic."

(Recent restaurant-industry-wide investigations in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas are examples of the new "directed investigations" approach.)

In addition to "directed investigations" by industry and geography, Smith said the DOL is employing an "enterprise approach," whereby a complaint at one branch of a business will trigger investigations at all branches owned and operated by the same company.

"What if that facility is just one of many facilities owned by the same corporate entity? If you find a violation at one facility, it's likely that there are violations at other facilities," she said at the New York University Law School celebration of the FLSA.