Labor Department Sends Long-Anticipated Wage Letters

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By Chris Opfer and Ben Penn

The Labor Department is out with fresh opinion letters offering clarity on wage and hour questions for businesses, in the first of what management lawyers hope will be a new form of compliance assistance that the Obama administration dropped.

The department released a trio of new opinion letters on the Wage and Hour Division’s website. They explain the department’s position on when workers must be compensated for travel time, pay for health-related rest breaks, and the potential garnishment of lump-sum payments.

The DOL announced earlier this year that it was reviving the opinion letter program, allowing businesses and workers to ask the department for its take on specific legal issues. The business community hailed the move, but critics say the letters can serve as a “get out of jail free card” by giving employers a shield to wage and hour lawsuits.

“American job creators and employees deserve to know how an agency will apply the law to a particular set of facts,” Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said in a statement announcing the new letters. “By addressing the application of statutes and regulations in the specific circumstances presented by an employer, employee, or other entity, opinion letters provide clarity that helps increase compliance to the benefit of all.”

At least two of the new letters were in response to questions from businesses. Acting Wage and Hour chief Bryan L. Jarrett signed the letters.

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