The United States Department of Labor (DOL) is one of the executive departments of the U.S. federal government. It is responsible for administering federal laws governing wage and hour standards, unemployment benefits, occupational safety and health, reemployment services, and, occasionally, economic statistics.
It is headed by the Secretary of Labor, who reports directly to the President of the United States and is a member of the President’s cabinet.
The Department of Labor was founded in 1913 by William Howard Taft and is headed by the U.S. Secretary of Labor. The civil rights movement of the 1960s prompted the Department to add promoting racial diversity in the workplace to its responsibilities. Special efforts are made on the part of the DOL to assist those who have unique challenges finding employment, such as the disabled, women, older workers, and minority group members.
In carrying out its mission, the Department of Labor administers and enforces more than 180 federal laws and thousands of federal regulations. These laws and regulations cover many workplace activities for about 10 million employers and 125 million workers.
What is the Purpose of the United States Department of Labor (DOL)?
The U.S. Department of Labor’s goals are to secure fair treatment and well-being of employees and retirees. This includes developing, fostering, and promoting:
- The well-being of wage earners, job seekers, and retirees,
- Improving working conditions, and
- Fostering opportunities for profitable employment
Because it is a regulatory department, the DOL has the power to create federal regulations that are believed necessary to enforce labor-related laws and policies that Congress has enacted.
The Department of Labor operates through several offices and agencies. These are then further categorized into major program areas. A few of the offices and agencies that the Department of Labor is responsible for are:
- The Administrative Review Board (ARB)
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics Veterans’ Employment and Training Services (VETS)
- The Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT)
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS)
- The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)
And many more.
What Does the Department of Labor Regulate?
The Department of Labor regulations are extensive, with over 180 federal laws. The DOL has extensive authority to regulate diverse areas of the law. Some of these are:
- Wage and Hour: The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is in place to ensure labor standards compliance to protect and improve the welfare of America’s workforce. The WHD enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), which addresses wages, overtime pay, recordkeeping, treatment of temporary foreign workers, and child labor laws. It also enforces the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires employers of a specific size to provide twelve weeks of job leave in instances of birth, adoption, or serious illness in a family.
- Workplace Safety and Health: The Occupational Safety and Health Act regulates the safety and health of employees in the workplace. OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is a division of the DOL and enforces the Act. OSHA also handles whistleblower protections and provides employers with resources such as compliance assistance specialists to ensure every employer is well informed about what OSHA expects of them.
- Employee Benefits Security: The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) assures the security of employee benefits such as retirement, health, and other benefits. The EBSA is responsible for regulations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which regulates employers offering pension, insurance, or other benefit plans. ERISA imposes various fiduciary, disclosure, and reporting requirements concerning these benefits.
- These provisions preempt many similar state laws. Some employers and plan administrators must fund an insurance system to protect certain retirement benefits, with premiums paid to the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). EBSA also administers reporting requirements for continuing healthcare provisions, required under the Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and the healthcare portability requirements on group plans imposed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
- Unions and Labor Relations: The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) developed preventative measures to halt improper collusion between employers and union officials. It also prevents embezzlement of union dues and provides standards for union official elections.
- It promotes union democracy by requiring labor organizations to file annual financial reports, union officials, employers, and labor consultants to file reports regarding certain labor relations practices, and establishing standards for the election of union officers. The LMRDA is administered by the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), which promotes union democracy, financial integrity, and transparency.
- Workers’ Compensation: The DOL does not have a role in administering or overseeing state workers’ compensation programs. However, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) establishes a comprehensive and exclusive workers’ compensation program which pays compensation for the disability or death of a federal employee resulting from personal injury sustained while performing duty.
- FECA, administered by OWCP, provides benefits for wage loss compensation for total or partial disability, schedule awards for permanent loss or loss of use of specified members of the body, related medical costs, and vocational rehabilitation.
- Honesty: The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) bars most employers from using polygraph machines (lie detector tests) on employees. It is administered by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD).
A few other areas of responsibility are the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, and provisions concerning wage garnishment of the Consumer Credit Protection Act. Since 1984, the Wage and Hour Division has recovered $2.8 billion from employers who have violated the Family and Medical Leave Act;
Can I Sue the U.S. Department of Labor?
Yes, it is possible to sue the Department of Labor. A federal district court in Texas awarded over half a million dollars in attorneys’ fees and costs to an employer when the Department of Labor was not substantially justified in its legal position.
If you are a company being investigated by the Department of Labor under the Equal Access to Justice Act, you may not only recover your out-of-pocket expenses in defending yourself but also recover attorneys’ fees if you prevail in your suit against the Department of Labor. Under this Act, the government bears the burden of proof that its position, at every stage, is “substantially justified.”
This means the Department of Labor must have a reasonable and factual basis for moving forward in their case against your company.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help in Dealing with the United States Department of Labor?
If you believe your rights or benefits have been violated, a knowledgeable and experienced labor lawyer will help you understand your options. They can inform you of any applicable federal laws that may have been violated, as well as state and local laws.
If you are an employer under investigation by the Department, an attorney will be beneficial in understanding what you are being accused of doing and building a defense. An attorney will also be invaluable if you are interested in pursuing a lawsuit against the Department of Labor.