On June 27, 2017 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced it would reinstate the practice of issuing Opinion Letters. The Wage and Hour Division will once again use Opinion Letters to provide guidance to employers and employees on various topics.
Under the Obama Administration, the DOL stopped issuing Opinion Letters in favor of the more broad “Administrator Interpretations.” Between 2010 and 2016, the DOL only published 11 Administrator Interpretations. Two of these 11 Interpretations were recently rescinded, as we previously reported.
Opinion Letters had been a DOL Wage and Hour division practice for over 70 years before they were replaced in 2010 with general guidance. Unlike the more general guidance provided in an Administrator Interpretation, Opinion Letters are an official written opinion of how a law applies to a specific set of facts provided by the person or entity requesting the opinion. Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, stated “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. . . . 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.”
The return of Opinion Letters is a good sign for employers, who can expect more guidance on complying with statutory requirements. The Wage and Hour Division has updated its website where employers and employees can view existing guidance or submit a request for an opinion letter.