Changes in Enforcement Focus Coming to the U. S. Department of Labor: Policy and Practice Issues for Employers

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INTRODUCTION

Business decision makers in the United States (U.S.) over time have learned that the changing of the guard in the Executive and Legislative branches of the Federal Government can lead to pronounced changes in a number of policy areas. With respect to U.S. Labor Policy, and specifically the enforcement focus of the U.S. Department of Labor, the changes in policy often create apprehension for business decision makers with respect to their internal compliance efforts and possible increases in their exposure to litigation. With the election of President Obama and an initial "super majority" for Democrats in both houses of Congress, employers subject to laws and regulations administered by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) should be preparing for a number of changes. While the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts ended the Democrat's super majority in the Senate, with the confirmation of President Obama's appointment of Hilda Solis as the new U.S. Secretary of Labor, the enforcement focus of the U.S. DOL under her watch has been made clear--"enforcement of our labor laws will be intensified" (Gurchiek, 2009). While vowing to not completely eliminate voluntary compliance programs initiated by her predecessor, the main focus of the DOL will turn from voluntary compliance programs to enforcement (Leonard, 2009). The purpose of this paper is to identify aspects of DOL's enforcement efforts that employers can expect to see in the near term and policy and practice suggestions to facilitate compliance.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR (DOL)

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) administers and enforces more than 180 federal laws. These mandates and the regulations that implement them cover a wide variety of workplace activities and cover about 10 million employers and 125 million workers. The DOL administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers' rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support (DOL, 2010). There are a number of different agencies that come under the supervision of the U.S. DOL.

DOL CHANGE AGENDA

The change in focus at the DOL was made clear early on in President Obama's tenure. The appointment of U.S. House of Representative Hilda Solis, described as "a long time advocate of progressive labor policies", to lead the U.S. DOL should have served as a wakeup call to decision makers of what lies ahead (Meneghello, 2010). In the President's DOL budget proposal for fiscal year 2010 he stated that "for the past eight years, the departments labor law enforcement agencies have struggled with growing workloads and shrinking staff" and he promised increased funding for three key agencies: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Wage and Hour Division, and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) (Smith, 2009). Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has made it clear since assuming leadership of the DOL that the focus of the agency will be on enforcement. In a June 2009 speech to the National Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. Solis stated that she "wants to restore some of the things that have been taken away" in the past eight years and "let me be clear: under my watch, enforcement of our labor laws will be intensified so we can provide an effective deterrent to employers who may unnecessarily put their workers' lives and employment at risk" (Gurchiek, 2009). In a HRMagazine interview with Senior Writer Bill Leonard, Solis again reiterated a goal of the DOL under her watch was "to make sure we step up enforcement of worker safety and health standards, increase protections for workers' pay and benefits, including promoting equal pay, expand paid leave and raise the minimum wage" (Leonard, 2009). In December of 2009, Secretary Solis when further describing her vision of the mission of the DOL stated that "the department will seek to enact an array of 90 rules and regulations in 2010 aimed at ensuring that workers are paid a fair wage, have a voice in the workplace, are provided a safe workplace and have a secure retirement" (Maurer, 2009 C). …