- The U.S. Labor Dept. (DOL) announced that it will resume issuing “opinion letters,” which were previously used to answer fact-specific questions from employers about wage and hour compliance.
- The Obama administration discontinued use of the letters in 2010 and replaced them with Administrator Interpretations (AIs), which provided only general guidance.
- Employers can now submit questions about the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and other laws to DOL using the information here.
The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) was known for being slow to answer questions via opinion letter but employers still generally favored the documents because they served as a good-faith defense to damages (or an extended statute of limitation) in wage and hour claims. DOL issued a relatively large number of these letters, sometimes sending out more than 50 in a year.
The Obama administration, however, in 2010 said that a shift to broad, generalized guidance would be a more efficient use of resources. During the next seven years, it issued a total of nine AIs.
The agency has not said whether opinion letters will replace AIs or be used alongside them. It also has not indicated whether it will formally adopt a series of opinion letters written but not mailed before President Obama’s inauguration; they are currently marked with an asterisk on DOL’s website.
The move is in line with expectations that WHD will ease enforcement and focus more on employer education. It follows the recent rescission of two AIs that tightened requirements for employers as well as toned down settlement announcements from the agency.
For employers, the reversal could mean some certainty with respect to specific wage and hour issues. Just how fast that clarity will come, however, remains to be seen; WHD has promised to process requests “as expeditiously as possible.”