(New throughout, adds background, details and comments from Halliburton)
By Daniel Wiessner
Sept 22 (Reuters) - Halliburton Co will pay $18.3 million to more than 1,000 oil and gas workers it improperly exempted from overtime pay, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Tuesday, the latest development in a nationwide probe into wage practices in the industry.
The department said Halliburton improperly identified workers in 28 job categories as exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the U.S. law governing wages and working hours. The company said it had begun paying the overtime and was cooperating with the Labor Department.
The settlement is one of the largest for the Labor Department in recent years in an overtime case.
Under the law, employees are entitled to mandatory overtime pay only if they earn less than $455 weekly or have few or no management duties. The Obama administration recently proposed more than doubling the income threshold, rankling business groups and Republican officials.
The Labor Department said Halliburton automatically exempted all salaried workers from overtime without considering their income or job duties.
“Ignorance is never an excuse for violating the law,” said Betty Campbell, a Labor Department official, in a statement.
A Halliburton spokeswoman said the company independently discovered that workers had been misclassified during an internal audit and began paying workers overtime as required by the law.
“Throughout this process, Halliburton has worked earnestly and cooperatively with the U.S. Department of Labor to equitably resolve this situation,” she said.
The company will pay $18.3 million to 1,016 employees. Halliburton has 70,000 employees in more than 80 countries.
The Halliburton investigation was part of a larger ongoing probe into the oil and gas industry’s pay practices, particularly in U.S. states in the Southwest and Northeast.
In December, the Labor Department announced that a number of companies involved in natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, including Chesapeake Energy and Citrus Energy, would collectively pay $4.5 million to more than 5,300 workers who were improperly exempted from overtime pay.
Halliburton, which has been hit by slumping crude oil prices and is buying Bakers Hughes Inc in a $35 billion deal, is cutting more than 14,000 jobs.
Halliburton’s shares were slightly down at $37.20 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and David Gregorio)