DOL Focuses on Compliance-Based Programs

 

Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP September 18, 2018
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Employers may get a little more help from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) through its Office of Compliance Initiatives (OCI). The new office will assist employers in preventing workplace violations and protecting employees' wages, benefits and other rights under federal labor laws.

"OCI appears to be a promising program that has the potential to help both employers and employees alike," said James Plunkett, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Washington, D.C.

Small businesses and employees don't generally have the time or resources to navigate the constantly changing interpretations of all the laws that fall under the DOL's purview, he said. "OCI is intended to provide these stakeholders with straightforward answers to the questions they face every day."

The DOL oversees compliance and enforcement efforts under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and other employment-related statutes.

In recent years, the DOL's approach has been largely focused on enforcement, noted Marty Heller, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta. But Alexander Acosta, the current secretary of labor, has indicated a desire to improve compliance initiatives that promote cooperation and education in the business community. These programs focus on helping employers to understand and follow the law rather than on penalizing businesses for violations.

"Vigorous enforcement and compliance assistance go hand in hand," Acosta said in a statement. "The Office of Compliance Initiatives expands our efforts to promote full compliance with federal labor law."

Cooperation with Employers

Establishing the OCI is one in a series of steps that the department is taking toward creating compliance-based programs that offer education and assistance to businesses. Earlier this year, the DOL launched the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program to help employers settle overtime and minimum-wage violations under the FLSA. 

The PAID program encourages employers to conduct wage and hour audits and self-report any violations they find. Employers may work with the department to correct mistakes and deliver any back wages to employees. Participating employers have the opportunity to avoid costly penalties and litigation expenses and make quick payments to workers who are owed compensation.

Through the PAID program, the department is essentially saying, "Come tell us if you made a mistake, and we will let you make supervised payments to affected employees," Heller said.

Worker advocates were skeptical of the PAID program when the pilot launched in April and called it a "a get-out-of-jail-free card" for employers, according to Politico. But the DOL said its program is designed to promote compliance and fast resolutions.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with U.S. Wage and Hour Laws and Wage Payment Laws]

The OCI is another compliance-based resource. According to a DOL announcement, the office will:

  • Facilitate and encourage a culture that promotes compliance assistance within the DOL.
  • Provide employers and workers with access to high-quality, up-to-date information about their obligations and rights under federal labor laws and regulations.
  • Help enforcement agencies develop new strategies to use data for more effective compliance and enforcement strategies.

The OCI will also help DOL agencies use online resources to facilitate their compliance and educational outreach goals. For example, the following two websites were recently created to provide resources for workers and employers:

  • Worker.gov focuses on protections for employees under federal law. 
  • Employer.gov provides information to businesses about their responsibilities under federal laws and regulations.

The DOL "expects more effective compliance assistance will help the department target enforcement resources on repeat and willful violators to level the playing field for America's job creators who abide by the law," according to the announcement.

Employers that are interested in compliance initiatives should pay close attention to the website, as additional educational and training material may be released, Heller said.

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