By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Labor removed a special website it created as a resource for current and former Wells Fargo employees on workplace issues, including whistleblower retaliation complaints, according to a U.S. lawmaker.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, sent a letter on Friday to Acting Labor Secretary Edward Hugler after discovering earlier this month that the site, www.dol.gov/wellsfargo, read: “Page not found.”
Former Labor Department Secretary Thomas Perez created the special website last September, shortly after Wells Fargo was ordered to pay $190 million in fines and customer restitution after its high-pressure sales environment led to the opening of as many as 2 million accounts that customers may not have authorized.
Some of the bank’s employees filed whistleblower complaints with the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, saying they had been fired for reporting the gaming by Wells Fargo, while others complained that they were forced to work late to meet sales quotas.
“Taking down this website enables Wells Fargo to escape full responsibility for its fraudulent actions and the department to shirk its outstanding obligations to American workers,” wrote Warren, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which oversees the Labor Department.
When he launched the site, Perez pledged to Warren he would conduct a top-to-bottom review of all the Wells Fargo complaints the department had received to see how they were handled.
The website also offered assistance on issues including proper pay for employees and workplace discrimination.
Reuters previously reported multiple problems with some of the whistleblower cases, including one involving a former Wells Fargo employee who waited nearly five years to be interviewed after telling OSHA she was fired for reporting the gaming.
On Friday Warren asked for an update on the department’s review.
The findings have not been made public, but a person familiar with the review said that OSHA’s San Francisco office, which handled the bulk of the Wells Fargo complaints, faced a particularly high case load to staff ratio.
The review also found that OSHA does not have an effective case management system to track what is going on in the field, the person added.
Warren’s concerns could become an issue on Feb. 7, when fast-food executive Andrew Puzder is expected to appear for his confirmation hearing to become the next labor secretary.
Puzder is already facing a backlash by some of his own workers at CKE Restaurants, who allege they are victims of wage theft.
(This story corrects throughout after Warren revises letter to say website was available “earlier in January” instead of specifically citing “January 20”.)
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Leslie Adler)