Department of Labor Opinion Letters

The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) had issued guidance based on inquiries from businesses about wage and hour issues that arise in the workplace through the distribution of opinion letters for five decades. In 2010, the Obama Wage and Hour Division decided to cease issuance of these letters and alternatively, decided to publish “Administrator Interpretations” of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) topics in its place.

Last year, the Trump administration announced that it would resume issuing opinion letters and began following through on its promise earlier this year when the DOL reissued 17 opinion letters previously withdrawn by the Obama Administration. Those letters addressed a wide range of topics from discretionary bonuses and calculation of salary deductions to administrative exemption qualifications.

Opinion letters are meant to guide employers and employees with respect to both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) laws by providing a better understanding of what is entailed. As noted on the DOL website regarding Rulings and Interpretations, “As part of the administration of the FLSA and the FMLA, interested parties may seek and officials of the Wage and Hour Division may provide official written explanations of what the FLSA or the FMLA requires in fact-specific situations.”

If you have a question about wage and hour laws that you can’t find answers to, requesting an opinion letter might be the way to go. It is important to remember that opinion letters are not binding but are rather informal guidance provided by the Department of Labor. A positive response can help an employer defend a policy in court while a negative response can get an employer to quickly change bad policies.

While the DOL can’t answer all employer inquiries, any clarity they can provide to employers in areas that are frequently unclear or confusing can be helpful—the hope is that the DOL continues to distribute these letters going forward.

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03/22/18 12:13 AM

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