Prior to 2010 the U.S. Department of Labor served both the employees of the country by suing employers engaging in incorrect practices and employers by offering interpretations of the law regarding the employers situations. In 2010 the DOL, under the Obama administration, ceased these opinion letters in favor of broad administrative statements. The also increased the number of Wage and Hour investigators, while having the Secretary of Labor announce that employers were “thieves stealing the wages of workers.” Not exactly a friendly tone for employers.
With the appointment of Alex Acosta as the Secretary of Labor by President Trump, balance seems to have returned to the DOL. Acosta has announced that the USDOL will once again issue opinion letters on wage and hour cases that may serve to act as examples of how employers should be handling difficult situations. Employers can now seek help from the DOL without having to necessarily get lawyers involved. There is even a website that has been established for this purpose. Request an Opinion Letter is found in the same area employees will find instructions on how to file a claim. That is balance.
Working with the public
With the court injunction of the wage increase that was supposed to have gone into effect last December employers and employees have been in limbo as to who is supposed to qualify as an exempt employee and who is not. Rather than just deciding the Acosta DOL is actually going to seek input from the public. Secretary Acosta has announced that the USDOL will be seeking a Request for Information (RFI) regarding federal overtime rules. An RFI is a request for feedback from the general public regarding what is working and what is problematic with regard to a particular set of regulations.
Perhaps this will be a real attempt at updating the FLSA to recognize the very changed world of work, not only from 1938 but also 2004 the last time it was changed. In a time when the factory floor, time-clock punching employee is no longer the “norm” this may be an opportunity to clean up the law and make it workable in a world of Results Only Work Environments. The RFI is the first step in revising rules so Human Resources professionals need to pay attention and take this opportunity to make comments.
Naturally this process will be fought every step of the way. Hopefully clear heads will prevail, but to be honest, until the voters get involved not enough progress will be made by politicians.