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Bentonville, Ark - The New York Times reports that an internal audit Wal-Mart conducted three years ago revealed "extensive violations of child-labor laws and state regulations requiring time for breaks and meals."
The audit, now under court seal, reviewed employee records at 128 stores in identifying the violations.
According to the story, the audit of one week's time-clock records for around 25,000 employees found 1,371 occurrences in which minors apparently worked too late at night, worked during school hours, or worked too many hours in a day. It also found 60,767 apparent occurrences of workers not taking breaks, and 15,705 apparent occurences of employees working through meal times.
Although the company confirmed the existence of the audit, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman told the New York Times that its conclusions were "meaningless, since what looked like violations could simply reflect employees' failure to punch in and out for breaks and meals they took."
Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's v.p. for communications, was quoted in the paper as saying: "Our view is that the audit really means nothing when you understand Wal-Mart's timekeeping system."
Details of the audit, which were documented by Bret Shipley, a Wal-Mart auditor, indicated that time-clock records for thousands of workers showed tens of thousands of missed lunches and breaks, according to the New York Times. In response, Williams told the paper that employees had probably taken their lunches and breaks but just failed to record them.
"The audit that Shipley pulled together doesn't reflect actual behavior within the facilities," Williams said, pointing to potentially inaccurate and/or misleading time-clock records that could have incorrectly indicated that minors had worked illegally during school hours.
Contending that the company has always striven to comply with the law and repeatedly instructs employees to take lunches and breaks, Williams was quoted as saying that company auditors more senior than Shipley had determined that the methodology he used was flawed. "This audit is so flawed and invalid that we did not respond to it in any way internally," she said.
Employees who have filed suits against Wal-Mart claiming that the retailer doesn't allow them to have meals or breaks say the audit strengthens their position that Wal-Mart has a history of illegal working conditions.