Can a DOL Opinion Letter Help an Employer with a Wage & Hour Dispute?
A Department of Labor (DOL) opinion letter is a letter issued by the Administrator that can address fact-specific questions related to federal wage and hour laws.
An opinion letter can provide an employer with guidelines for dealing with a specific situation. When being followed, it also constitutes a good faith defense to a wage claim brought against an employer under the FLSA.
The DOL had used opinion letters as part of their standard practice for 70 years before they were discontinued and replaced with general guidance in 2010. However, the DOL reinstated their use in June 2017. The reinstatement had the purpose of clarifying the understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other laws for employers and employees.
DOL Administrator Interpretations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
The Administrator can issue interpretations of the FLSA, Davis-Bacon Act (DBA) or Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act (PCA). Having an interpretation can assist an employer who follows it, when by comparison, without the opinion letter the employer’s actions might be interpreted as a legal violation.
Only Administrator’s rulings or interpretations have authority. Or, in the Administrator’s absence, an Acting Administrator, Deputy Administrator or Deputy Administrator for Program Operations has authority to issue an opinion letter. In this instance, their interpretations or rulings serve as official Wage and Hour Division rulings.
Even so, portions of interpretations or whole interpretations are sometimes withdrawn based on court decisions or new information.
Reliance on Opinion Letters Should Be Specific
In the case Perry v. Randstad General Partner, No. 16-1010 (6th Cir. Nov. 20, 2017), the Sixth Circuit Court ruled that the employer did not establish good faith in its use of an opinion letter. The court found differences between the specific situations referenced in the opinion letter and the employer’s application of it. The primary differences where that the staffing managers did not have the authority to hire or fire employees and they also did not supervise the employees after they were placed in a job.
Our attorneys at Stephen Hans & Associates are glad to discuss employment issues and have decades of experience representing employers in employment related disputes.