Labor Department Brings Back Opinion Letters

The US Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced a major process change, and believe it or not, HR professionals are celebrating it as good news. No, you haven’t walked into the Twilight Zone.


Last month, the agency announced that it was reviving the practice of issuing “opinion letters,” or statements clarifying key parts of existing wage and hour laws. These letters directly answer employer-submitted compliance questions and can subsequently be viewed as precedent in wage and hour claims. The decades-old practice was retired in 2010 by the Obama administration, who claimed that fielding employer questions so publicly and frequently was not sustainable.


The topics covered by these letters are diverse, but tend to revolve around provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Submitted questions might range from “Do I have to compensate workers for off-site training?” to something as specific as “Can a boat captain be considered overtime exempt?” Prior to the Obama administration’s suspension of the program, employers could have expected the publication of as many as 40 opinion letters a year.


Have a question of your own? The DOL just launched a new website where employers can submit their questions and access past opinion letters. Given that it has been a particularly challenging year for HR compliance, we fully expect employers will have no shortage of head-scratchers to share.

 


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