The United States Department of Labor (DOL) recently reinstated the Wage and Hour Division opinion letter process, which ended about seven years ago. DOL opinion letters allow either employers or employees to ask the DOL whether specific practices comply with laws under its jurisdiction.

The DOL may choose to respond with guidance, which can provide a useful defense for employers, both in court and in response to DOL investigations. In fact, the employer that received the opinion letter and any other employer who reasonably relied on an opinion letter’s guidance may use it as part of a good-faith defense to allegations of wage and hour law violations. When an employer is presented with a close call on a wage and hour issue, it should seek legal counsel on the risks and benefits of requesting an opinion letter from the DOL as well as relying on previous DOL opinion letters.

In short, employers with questions if their wage and hour practices comply with the law can request opinion letters to avoid potential exposure to wage and hour claim liability. As always, prudent employers should contact experienced labor and employment counsel to assist in drafting and submitting opinion letter requests.