This week, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced that the Department of Labor (DOL), in collaboration with other federal employment agencies, was creating an Office of Compliance Initiatives (OCI). The DOL, through its various divisions, oversees compliance with and enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, among other laws and regulations. Secretary Acosta announced that the DOL was forming OCI in order to advance the agency’s compliance mission by aiding employers, workers, and other enforcement agencies in understanding federal employment laws.

OCI’s first step was to launch two websites – worker.gov and employer.gov – to “provide information about worker’s rights and common workplace concerns.” The sites provide information about payment of wages, workplace safety and health, retirement security, rights to protected leave, and other benefits. The site also provides information about rights protected by agencies other than the DOL, such as non-discrimination in employment (administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice) and the right to organize and engage in collective workplace activity (a right protected by the National Labor Relations Board). The employee-focused site even walks workers step-by-step through the process of filing claims or charges with the respective federal agencies, with links to complete the process.

Critics say that the creation of OCI reflects the DOL’s growing emphasis on compliance rather than aggressive agency enforcement. (In April 2018, we reported on the DOL’s new pilot Payroll Audit Independent Determination, or PAID, program, which allows employers to voluntarily resolve wage underpayments without federal sanctions, which has been harshly criticized by Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).) However, Secretary Acosta remarked during his announcement of the OCI initiative that “vigorous enforcement and compliance assistance go hand in hand.” In addition to providing direct-to-consumer information through the websites and other outreach efforts, OCI plans to assist enforcement agencies in developing new strategies to use data for impactful compliance and enforcement strategies.