The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) protects over 135 million workers by offering updated regulatory guidance and enforcing some of the nation’s most comprehensive employment laws.
Acting administrator Bryan Jarrett of the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL recently spoke to attendees of the 2018 American Payroll Association (APA) Congress in Washington D.C. about some efforts the agency is undertaking to provide compliance assistance and improve enforcement.
Sometimes complying with the law can be complex, and “even the best intentions can unintentionally break the law,” said Jarrett. So the DOL helps people understand the laws that affect them in several ways, such as opinion letters.
These letters show how a particular law or regulation, enforced by the US DOL, may apply in a fact-specific circumstance. Anyone can request an opinion letter for the DOL to review. The most recently published opinion letters have covered issues surrounding travel time, pay, and garnishment provisions of consumer protection law.
The DOL has also begun to issue “plain language” videos on its website and on YouTube that address a variety of issues common to employers regarding compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In addition to the videos, there are thousands of publications available on the DOL website, which was visited more than 35 million times in 2017, according to Jarrett.
Over the phone
The DOL offers a toll-free phone line for employers and employees with questions concerning laws and regulations enforced by the U.S. DOL. In 2017, the DOL received over 1 million calls, most of them from employers. Also, its 12 district offices have a designated employee to help answer questions and provide confidential compliance assistance.
In 2017, the DOL conducted 1,300 education outreach events on hot topics and common issues in compliance. Topics included prevailing wage, the FLSA, hiring veterans and individuals with disabilities, and many more.
As Jarrett explained to the audience at the APA Congress, “When employers fully and correctly understand their legal obligations they’re more likely to comply. And when employees understand theirs they’re less likely to be exploited.”
So the DOL has begun building partnerships to help employers and employees better understand how regulatory compliance affects them. Two examples of DOL partnerships with the fast food industry in particular include the Subway and Sonic restaurant chains. According to Jarrett, the DOL is currently looking into similar partnerships with other companies.
Of course, the DOL doesn’t just educate about the law — they enforce it. The agency employs 1,600 people dedicated to administration and enforcement. In the past year, these DOL employees conducted 28,000 investigations resulting in $270 million in back wages being paid to 240,000 workers.
Some of these investigations began with an employee complaint, while others were initiated by the DOL using sophisticated data analysis techniques.
What do you do if you’ve violated the Fair Labor Standards Act?
PAID, or Payroll Audit Independent Determination program, is a pilot program for employers who have inadvertently failed to comply with federal wage and hour law and who want to make things right with their employees. As the law stands, employers can’t simply write employees a check when they see they’ve made a mistake. The DOL must supervise such a payment, or it must be approved by a court.
The PAID program is a way to more expediently resolve those claims outside the court system. The DOL’s website has details and Q and As on how PAID may be able to help your business.
There are also safeguards in place to keep “bad actors” from taking advantage of the program. For example, a business can’t take part in PAID if the U.S. DOL’s Wage and Hour Division is currently investigating the compensation practices in the proposed PAID self-audit.Neither WHD nor a court of law has found within the last five years that you have violated FLSA minimum wage and/or overtime requirements by engaging in the same compensation practices at issue in this proposed PAID self-audit.
What’s next in compliance?
Even with all of the efforts by the DOL to provide educational opportunities for employers and their employees, it can be a lot of work to educate yourself on every regulation that could potentially affect your business, especially since a 2017 Paychex Pulse of HR survey found that keeping up with and complying with regulations were among the most important challenges faced by HR professionals.
One way to help relieve the burden is to work with an HR solutions provider that can offer a team of compliance professionals who proactively monitor employment laws and regulations. Together with the efforts of the DOL and other legislative bodies, working with an HR provider may help you keep an informed eye on your business and its activities as laws and regulations continue to change.