Department of Labor, U.S. - American businessThe U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is a cabinet-level agency in the federal government created in 1913 with a mission “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners of the United States, to improve their working conditions, and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” The DOL was created by transferring four bureaus—Labor Statistics, Immigration, Naturalization, and Children’s—from the old Department of Commerce and Labor. Over the years, changing political and ECONOMIC CONDITIONS have expanded the DOL’s role in addressing the needs of workers in the United States. During World War I, the department was placed in charge of the War Labor Administration, and during the Depression it operated EMPLOYMENT services and many New Deal-era programs. Some DOL responsibilities, including veterans’ employment rights and immigration, have been shifted to other federal agencies. Today the DOL administers and enforces over 180 federal laws. Following are some of its major responsibilities.
• The FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT prescribes standards for wages and overtime pay. The act requires employers to pay covered employees at least the federal MINIMUM WAGE and overtime at a rate of at least 1½ times the regular wage. The act also restricts employment of children under age 16.
• The Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970), administered by the OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION (OSHA), defines and regulates safety and health conditions for workplace environments in most industries in the United States. Additional acts protecting miners, longshore and harbor workers, and child labor are also administered by OSHA.
• The EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT INCOME SECURITY ACT (ERISA) regulates employers who offer pension or WELFARE benefit plans for their employees. Before passage of ERISA, unscrupulous employers would “raid” employee pension funds for corporate and personal use, often bankrupting workers’ funds. ERISA mandated fiduciary and disclosure requirements and created the PENSION BENEFIT GUARANTY CORPORATION requiring employers to insure retirement benefits with payments in to guaranty fund.
• The LABOR-MANAGEMENT REPORTING AND DISCLOSURE ACT (also known as the LANDRUM-GRIFFIN ACT) created safeguards for the use and management of union funds. Protection of WHISTLE-BLOWERs—workers who report or complain about unsafe or illegal actions by their companies— is administered under OSHA.
• The WORKER ADJUSTMENT AND RETRAINING NOTIFICATION ACT (WARN) requires employers to provide employees with early warning of impending LAYOFFs or plant closings.
• The EMPLOYEE POLYGRAPH PROTECTION ACT (1988) prohibits most employers from using lie detectors on employees. • The CONSUMER CREDIT PROTECTION ACT (1968) regulates the garnishment of wages by creditors.
• The FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT (1993) requires certain employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees for the birth or adoption of a child or serious illness of the employee or a family member.
• The DAVIS-BACON ACT (1931) mandates payment of prevailing wages and benefits to employees of contractors engaged in U.S. government construction projects.
• The MCNAMARA-O’HARA SERVICE CONTRACT ACT (1965) sets wage rates and other labor standards for employees of contractors furnishing services to the U.S. government.
• The WALSH-HEALEY PUBLIC CONTRACTS ACT (1936) requires the DOL to settle disputes of awards to manufacturers supplying products to the U.S. government.
• The MIGRANT AND SEASONAL AGRICULTURAL WORKER PROTECTION ACT (1983) regulates hiring and employment of agricultural workers.
• The IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY ACT (1952) requires employers who want to hire foreign temporary workers to obtain certification that there are insufficient available and qualified Americans to do the work.
• The FEDERAL MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT (1977) covers all people who work on mine property.
• The COPELAND ACT (1934) precludes “kickback” requirements, payments demanded from employees as a condition for employment with a federal contractor.
• The LONGSHORING AND HARBOR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ACT (1927) requires employers to assure that WORKERS’ COMPENSATION is funded and available to eligible employees.
The DOL has many other regulatory and advisory responsibilities related to workers and working conditions in the United States. Critics of government involvement in the workplace often cite DOL regulations as bureaucratic interference that creates inefficiency.
See also BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS; LABOR FORCE.