DOL Reinstates Wage And Hour Opinion Letters

June 28, 2017

The U.S. Department of Labor announced it will reinstate the issuance of opinion letters. U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta made the announcement Tuesday. The action allows the department’s Wage and Hour Division to use opinion letters as one of its methods for providing guidance to covered employers and employees.

An opinion letter is an official, written opinion by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by an employer, employee or other entity requesting the opinion. The letters were a division practice for more than 70 years until being stopped and replaced by general guidance in 2010.

Employers can now submit questions about the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and other laws to DOL and in return get fact-specific answers about compliance. In the past, opinion letters served as good faith documents in cases that required legal interpretation.

“Reinstating opinion letters will benefit employees and employers as they provide a means by which both can develop a clearer understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes,” said Secretary Acosta. “The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to helping employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities so employers can concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”

In 2010, the DOL shifted to a policy of providing general guidance in the form of Administrator Interpretations (AIs) and stopped the opinion letters program in an effort to be more efficient. More information regarding the reinstatement of opinion letters is available here:

WHD has also established an employers webpage where users can see if existing agency guidance already addresses a question or submit a request for an opinion letter. The webpage explains what to include in the request, where to submit the request, and where to review existing guidance. The division will exercise discretion in determining which requests for opinion letters will be responded to, and the appropriate form of guidance to be issued. 

Employers will find compliance resources intended to provide employers with readily accessible, easy-to-understand information relevant to both their rights and to their responsibilities under the law including:

Regulatory Library – the laws and regulations administered by WHD.

Administrator Interpretations, Opinion and Ruling Letters - the WHD Administrator issues Administrator Interpretations when further clarity regarding the proper interpretation of a statutory or regulatory issue is appropriate.

Field Bulletins - Field Assistance Bulletins provide WHD investigators and staff with guidance on enforcement positions and clarification of policies or changes in policy.

Industry-Specific Resources - WHD has a number of compliance assistance resources tailored to specific industries. The construction industry category includes information on fair laobor standards, construction contracts, etc.