On June 27, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced that the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) will reinstate the issuance of opinion letters.  You might be wondering why this decision is important to businesses.  The answer is two-fold: (1) opinion letters provide interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) so that employers understand their rights and responsibilities under the law; and (2) opinion letters may be relied upon as a good faith defense to wage claims arising under the FLSA.

Opinion letters are issued by the USDOL as a response to a request by the public for an explanation of what the FLSA or FMLA requires in a fact-specific situation.    The opinion letter is an official, written opinion of the USDOL.  So, opinion letters issued by the USDOL are a way that employers can have a clearer understanding of their compliance obligations under the FLSA or FMLA, regarding a particular fact-specific situation. You can submit a request for an opinion letter here.

Although opinion letters had been in practice for more than 70 years, they were replaced by general guidance in 2010.  Past opinion letters topics included: Calculation of salary deductions; Year-end non-discretionary bonus and section 7(e); Employee Notice and Call-In Procedures; and “Rolling” 12-month leave period and the 1250 hours test for eligibility.  While opinion letters are fact-specific, they give helpful guidance to businesses regarding the nuances of the FLSA and FLMA making it easier for compliance.  For that reason, businesses should subscribe to the USDOL free email service that notifies recipients each time the web page is updated with new rulings, interpretations and opinions.