The U.S. Department of Labor has stepped up enforcement of cases where employers have allegedly retaliated against workers in the labor department's Southwest region, including in Colorado.

In 2013, the labor department's Wage and Hour Division investigated 40 cases in which employers allegedly retaliated against workers in the Southwest, a labor department spokesman said. The division investigated seven retaliation cases in 2012.

The division investigated two companies in Colorado in 2013, one in Colorado Springs and another case in Denver. The stepped-up enforcement came from talks between the division and community groups that mentioned the problem, and it will continue throughout this year.

In some retaliation cases last year, employers were required to pay lost wages and other compensation to workers. The division's Southwest region includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Employees who file complaints under the Fair Labor Standards Act are protected by law from retaliation. Any employee who is fired or otherwise retaliated against by an employer for cooperating in a labor department investigation may file a retaliation complaint with the division or file a lawsuit.

Employees can seek reinstatement of employment, lost wages and other losses resulting from an illegal action by employers.

"We have stepped up our anti-retaliation enforcement effort, and we will use every tool available to protect workers and hold employers accountable." said Cynthia Watson, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest.