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They say the truth is in the interpretation; if that’s true, the Department of Labor’s replacement of opinion letters with administrator interpretations might mean there are major changes going on behind the scenes, says A. Harrison Barnes, attorney and president of Historically, when an employer inquired about how to remain in compliance with things such as pay requirements and other subtleties associated with the Fair Labor Standards Act, the response come in the form of an opinion letter. The letter, accompanied by specific clauses in the Act that the Department sent, would provide direction for the employer. This served as legal justification for any action a company might take.

Now, says A. Harrison Barnes, the new administrator interpretations, are more general. They’re directed to entire sectors, such as manufacturing. The interpretations do not address specific questions an employer may ask, but will instead “provide guidance…clarifying the law as it relates to an entire industry, a category of employees, or to all employees”. This, from the Department of Labor, is designed for a more “efficient method”.

Many employers are crying “foul” and are saying the Labor Department is dropping the ball in its duties. They say the entire purpose of the Department is to provide specific direction for the millions of employers throughout the U.S. and are blaming the Obama Administration for making these changes that don’t answer specific questions. Further complicating matters is how job titles differ from one company to another. For instance, in one company, may list its clerk job as part time help, thereby making them ineligible for certain benefits. Another company, across the country, or across the street, may hire full time clerks while providing them with full benefits. Obviously, the differences are significant; however, if both parties were to contact the Department of Labor on clarification of some kind, they’d both receive the same letter that likely did not address either problem.

This, says the founder, is where the problems are going to be substantial. To top off these changes, some are charging the agency is leaning towards helping wronged employees in their litigation efforts. Between the national television commercial campaign and the celebrities who were no doubt pay big money to star in these ads, employees are being given quick guidelines on how to sue, via the “We Can Help” promotion.

So does this mean other areas, such as wage and hour concerns, the various disabilities acts and employment acts will suffer? “Possibly”, say some experts. If you have employers looking for the right solution and seeking guidance from the one agency that can provide it, but won’t, and if you have that same agency encouraging employees to sue those employers, there’s going to be a major unrest in the employment sector as a whole. Time will tell, of course, but this is yet another solution to a problem that never existed until an unnecessary change in policy.

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