DOL Promotes Compliance Assistance Programs and Tools for Employers

Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP September 17, 2020
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US Department of Labor Sign and Exterior

The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL's) Office of Compliance Initiatives (OCI) was created two years ago to help employers understand and comply with employment laws and regulations. Since its inception, OCI has partnered with other DOL agencies to create programs and interactive tools that help curb employer violations.

"Under this administration, the department has invested in compliance assistance as an important compliment to its investigative and compliance-driven enforcement activities," said Labor Solicitor Kate O'Scannlain at a DOL summit on Sept. 14. "As the American workforce presses forward and faces new challenges, the department pledges to continue to hear and respond to the needs of businesses and workers."

The department's key objective is to advance compliance solutions for the modern workforce, reduce violations and free the department to focus enforcement resources on "the truly bad actors" who intentionally and repeatedly violate the law, O'Scannlain said.

The DOL oversees compliance and enforcement efforts under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and other employment-related statutes. Here are some of the programs and tools that are designed to help employers meet their obligations under federal employment laws.

Programs and Awards

The OCI "promotes a greater understanding of federal labor laws and regulations, and the goal is to make sure that businesses know what the rules are in advance," said Jonathan Wolfson, a DOL deputy assistant secretary for policy.

The OCI has the following four key objectives:

  • Outreach: Enhance outreach to the businesses that must abide by laws and regulations.
  • Innovation: Create innovative ways to provide employers and workers with access to up-to-date information about their rights and responsibilities under the law.
  • Culture: Facilitate a cultural change that promotes compliance assistance throughout the department.
  • Analysis: Assist enforcement agencies in developing new strategies to use data analysis and behavioral insights to enhance compliance and enforcement strategies.

Through its outreach efforts, the DOL's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) heard that federal contractors wanted to bring back certain award programs, which were designed to encourage employers to work in good faith to comply with employment laws.

The OFCCP started with the Excellence in Disability Inclusion Award, which is awarded to employers that excel in meeting their obligation to "recruit, hire, retain and advance qualified people with disabilities" under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

"It's very important that companies are reaching out and seeking to include people with disabilities in all aspects of their employment processes," said OFCCP Director Craig Leen. "It's good for business. It's good for those with disabilities. It's good for the entire workforce."

The DOL's HIRE Vets Medallion Program rewards employers that are committed to hiring veterans. "Our vision is that all veterans reach their full potential in the workplace, and part of reaching your potential is finding a great place to work," said John Lowry, assistant secretary of the Veterans' Employment and Training Service.

Additionally, the DOL's Wage and Hour Division launched the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program to help employers settle overtime and minimum-wage violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

[Need help with legal questions? Check out the new SHRM LegalNetwork.]

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.

The program allows an employer to say, "I messed up," and "I'd like to fix it," noted Cheryl Stanton, the Wage and Hour Division's administrator.

Modernizing Tools

The DOL's enforcement agencies have long featured compliance assistance and outreach to employers. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides free onsite consulting services through local institutions that are separate from enforcement. The Wage and Hour Division features an 'eLaw Advisors' page on its website that walks employers through 10 sets of wage, hour and leave requirements.

The new office has gathered these resources together and is working to increase their accessibility.

"The department is focused on … designing compliance assistance around the human perspective and then also using behavioral feedback to help us better understand our stakeholders' needs," said Alison Kilmartin, a DOL deputy assistant secretary for policy,

The Labor Department developed two websites 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.

These pages "are designed so that someone who has no … legal understanding of regulations and the law can go on there and intuitively ask the questions that they might have," Kilmartin said.

The DOL has also created webinars and animated videos and compliance assistance kits. The DOL has recognized that "compliance assistance really is this complimentary tool to enforcement, and the vast majority of employers want to comply with the law if they just understood all of the rules," said Michael Kravitz, associate administrator for the Wage and Hour Division. 

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