eLABORate: The Wait is Over - Opinion Letters are Back

April 26, 2018

On June 27, 2017, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division announced that it would resume its issuance of opinion letters—a practice that was once standard within the Division. Opinion letters provide employers with official guidance on how to properly execute their responsibilities under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and other federal statutes in fact-specific situations. The Division ended the practice in 2009 and began providing more generalized statutory guidance in the form of administrator interpretations.

After nearly a decade long hiatus, opinion letters have returned. On April 12, 2018, the Division issued new opinion letters on the following three topics governed by the FLSA, FLMA, and Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA):

  1. Compensability of travel time – The FLSA does not require employers to compensate non-exempt employees for time spent traveling to or from work, regardless of whether the worksite is at a fixed location or different job sites. But employees must be compensated for travel time from job site to job site. Time spent traveling out of town for work is also compensable when it cuts across the employee’s regular work hours, even when the travel time occurs on the weekend.
  2. Compensability of frequent rest breaks due to health conditions - The Division clarified that employees must be compensated for rest breaks under the FLSA only when the breaks predominantly benefit the employer. As frequent accommodation breaks due to health conditions primarily benefit the employee, they are not compensable.
  3. Garnishment of wages for child support – The Division explained that any payments made by employers to employees in exchange for services provided by the employee are considered “earnings” that are subject to the CCPA’s garnishment limits. The fact that the payments are made periodically or in one lump sum does not determine whether they fall within the CCPA’s definition of earnings. Bonuses, commissions, relocation incentives, and similar one-time payments made in exchange for the employee’s services are within the scope of the CCPA.

The detailed guidance of opinion letters enables employers to better understand and grasp the nuances of the law related to common situations in the workplace. These and other opinion letters can be accessed at the Division’s webpage.