Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor
On This Page
- Wages & Hours
- Workplace Safety & Health
- Workers' Compensation
- Employee Benefits
- Unions & Their Members
- Employee Protection
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- Garnishment of Wages
- The Family and Medical Leave Act
- Veterans' Preference
- Government Contracts, Grants, or Financial Aid
- Migrant & Seasonal Agricultural Workers
- Mine Safety & Health
- Plant Closings & Layoffs
The Department of Labor (DOL) administers and enforces more than 180 federal laws. These mandates and the regulations that implement them cover many workplace activities for about 10 million employers and 125 million workers.
Following is a brief description of many of DOL's principal statutes most commonly applicable to businesses, job seekers, workers, retirees, contractors and grantees. This brief summary is intended to acquaint you with the major labor laws and not to offer a detailed exposition. For authoritative information and references to fuller descriptions on these laws, you should consult the statutes and regulations themselves.
Employment Laws Assistance provides a list of selected U.S. Department of Labor laws and regulations with links to related compliance assistance activities. The DOL compliance assistance Web site offers complete information on how to comply with federal employment laws.
Rulemaking and Regulations provides brief descriptions of and links to various sources of information on DOL's rulemaking activities and regulations.
Wages & Hours
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prescribes standards for wages and overtime pay, which affect most private and public employment. The act is administered by the Wage and Hour Division. It requires employers to pay covered employees who are not otherwise exempt at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one-and-one-half-times the regular rate of pay. For nonagricultural operations, it restricts the hours that children under age 16 can work and forbids the employment of children under age 18 in certain jobs deemed too dangerous. For agricultural operations, it prohibits the employment of children under age 16 during school hours and in certain jobs deemed too dangerous.
The Wage and Hour Division also enforces the labor standards provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that apply to aliens authorized to work in the U.S. under certain nonimmigrant visa programs (H-1B, H-1B1, H-1C, H2A).
Workplace Safety & Health
The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Safety and health conditions in most private industries are regulated by OSHA or OSHA-approved state programs, which also cover public sector employers. Employers covered by the OSH Act must comply with the regulations and the safety and health standards promulgated by OSHA. Employers also have a general duty under the OSH Act to provide their employees with work and a workplace free from recognized, serious hazards. OSHA enforces the Act through workplace inspections and investigations. Compliance assistance and other cooperative programs are also available.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), administered by The Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP), provides for compensation and medical care to certain maritime employees (including a longshore worker or other person in longshore operations, and any harbor worker, including a ship repairer, shipbuilder, and shipbreaker) and to qualified dependent survivors of such employees who are disabled or die due to injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States, or in adjoining areas customarily used in loading, unloading, repairing or building a vessel.
The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) is a compensation program that provides a lump-sum payment of $150,000 and prospective medical benefits to employees (or certain of their survivors) of the Department of Energy and its contractors and subcontractors as a result of cancer caused by exposure to radiation, or certain illnesses caused by exposure to beryllium or silica incurred in the performance of duty, as well as for payment of a lump-sum of $50,000 and prospective medical benefits to individuals (or certain of their survivors) determined by the Department of Justice to be eligible for compensation as uranium workers under section 5 of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).
The Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), 5 U.S.C. 8101 et seq., establishes a comprehensive and exclusive workers' compensation program which pays compensation for the disability or death of a federal employee resulting from personal injury sustained while in the performance of duty. The FECA, administered by OWCP, provides benefits for wage loss compensation for total or partial disability, schedule awards for permanent loss or loss of use of specified members of the body, related medical costs, and vocational rehabilitation.
The Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA) provides monthly cash payments and medical benefits to coal miners totally disabled from pneumoconiosis ("black lung disease") arising from their employment in the nation's coal mines. The statute also provides monthly benefits to a deceased miner's survivors if the miner's death was due to black lung disease.
Employee Benefit Security
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) regulates employers who offer pension or welfare benefit plans for their employees. Title I of ERISA is administered by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) (formerly the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration) and imposes a wide range of fiduciary, disclosure and reporting requirements on fiduciaries of pension and welfare benefit plans and on others having dealings with these plans. These provisions preempt many similar state laws. Under Title IV, certain employers and plan administrators must fund an insurance system to protect certain kinds of retirement benefits, with premiums paid to the federal government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). EBSA also administers reporting requirements for continuation of health-care provisions, required under the Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) and the health care portability requirements on group plans under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Unions & Their Members
The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959 (also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act) deals with the relationship between a union and its members. It protects union funds and promotes union democracy by requiring labor organizations to file annual financial reports, by requiring union officials, employers, and labor consultants to file reports regarding certain labor relations practices, and by establishing standards for the election of union officers. The act is administered by the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS).
Most labor and public safety laws and many environmental laws mandate whistleblower protections for employees who complain about violations of the law by their employers. Remedies can include job reinstatement and payment of back wages. OSHA enforces the whistleblower protections in most laws.
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
Certain persons who serve in the armed forces have a right to reemployment with the employer they were with when they entered service. This includes those called up from the reserves or National Guard. These rights are administered by the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS).
Employee Polygraph Protection Act
This law bars most employers from using lie detectors on employees, but permits polygraph tests only in limited circumstances. It is administered by the Wage and Hour Division.
Garnishment of Wages
Garnishment of employee wages by employers is regulated under the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CPCA) which is administered by the Wage and Hour Division.
The Family and Medical Leave Act
Administered by the Wage and Hour Division, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers of 50 or more employees to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees for the birth or adoption of a child or for the serious illness of the employee or a spouse, child or parent.
Veterans and other eligible persons have special employment rights with the federal government. They are provided preference in initial hiring and protection in reductions in force. Claims of violation of these rights are investigated by the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS).
Government Contracts, Grants, or Financial Aid
Recipients of government contracts, grants or financial aid are subject to wage, hour, benefits, and safety and health standards under:
- The Davis-Bacon Act, which requires payment of prevailing wages and benefits to employees of contractors engaged in federal government construction projects;
- The McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act, which sets wage rates and other labor standards for employees of contractors furnishing services to the federal government;
- The Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act, which requires payment of minimum wages and other labor standards by contractors providing materials and supplies to the federal government.
Administration and enforcement of these laws are by The Wage and Hour Division. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) administers and enforces three federal contract-based civil rights laws that require most federal contractors and subcontractors, as well as federally assisted construction contractors, to provide equal employment opportunity. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management's (OASAM) Civil Rights Center administers and enforces several federal assistance based civil rights laws requiring recipients of federal financial assistance from Department of Labor to provide equal opportunity.
Migrant & Seasonal Agricultural Workers
The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) regulates the hiring and employment activities of agricultural employers, farm labor contractors, and associations using migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. The Act prescribes wage protections, housing and transportation safety standards, farm labor contractor registration requirements, and disclosure requirements. The Wage and Hour Division administers this law.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exempts agricultural workers from overtime premium pay, but requires the payment of the minimum wage to workers employed on larger farms (farms employing more than approximately seven full-time workers. The Act has special child-labor regulations that apply to agricultural employment; children under 16 are forbidden to work during school hours and in certain jobs deemed too dangerous. Children employed on their families' farms are exempt from these regulations. The Wage and Hour Division administers this law. OSHA also has special safety and health standards that may apply to agricultural operations.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires employers who want to use foreign temporary workers on H-2A visas to get a labor certificate from the Employment and Training Administration certifying that there are not sufficient, able, willing and qualified U.S. workers available to do the work. The labor standards protections of the H-2A program are enforced by The Wage and Hour Division.
Mine Safety & Health
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) covers all people who work on mine property. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) administers this Act.
The Mine Act holds mine operators responsible for the safety and health of miners; provides for the setting of mandatory safety and health standards, mandates miners' training requirements; prescribes penalties for violations; and enables inspectors to close dangerous mines. The safety and health standards address numerous hazards including roof falls, flammable and explosive gases, fire, electricity, equipment rollovers and maintenance, airborne contaminants, noise, and respirable dust. MSHA enforces safety and health requirements at more than 13,000 mines, investigates mine accidents, and offers mine operators training, technical and compliance assistance.
Several agencies administer programs related solely to the construction industry. OSHA has special occupational safety and health standards for construction; The Wage and Hour Division, under Davis-Bacon and related acts, requires payment of prevailing wages and benefits; The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs enforces Executive Order 11246, which requires federal construction contractors and subcontractors, as well as federally assisted construction contractors, to provide equal employment opportunity; the anti-kickback section of the Copeland Act precludes a federal contractor from inducing any employee to sacrifice any part of the compensation required.
Most laws with labor provisions regulating the transportation industry are administered by agencies outside the Department of Labor. However, longshoring and maritime industry safety and health standards are issued and enforced by OSHA. The Longshoring and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), requires employers to assure that workers' compensation is funded and available to eligible employees. In addition, the rights of employees in the mass transit industry are protected when federal funds are used to acquire, improve, or operate a transit system. Under the Federal Transit law, the Department of Labor is responsible for approving employee protection arrangements before the department of Transportation can release funds to grantees.
Plant Closings & Layoffs
Such occurrences may be subject to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). WARN offers employees early warning of impending layoffs or plant closings. The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) provides information to the public on WARN, though neither ETA nor the Department of Labor has administrative responsibility for the statute, which is enforced through private action in the federal courts.
For more details and guidance on laws and regulations covered in this fact sheet, call the appropriate Department of Labor agency listed in your phone book under U.S. Government.
Other federal agencies besides the Department of Labor enforce laws and regulations that affect employers.
- Statutes that ensure non-discrimination in employment are generally enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- The Taft-Hartley Act regulates a wide range of employer-employee conduct and is administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
For more information on these laws, consult these agencies; they are listed in your phone book under U.S. Government.
Some of the statutes and regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) require that notices be provided to employees and/or posted in the workplace. DOL provides free electronic and printed copies of these required posters.
The elaws Poster Advisor can be used to determine which poster(s) employers are required to display at their place(s) of business. Posters, available in English and other languages, may be downloaded and printed directly from the Advisor. If you already know which poster(s) you are required to display, see below to download and print the appropriate poster(s) free of charge.
Please note that the elaws Poster Advisor provides information on federal DOL poster requirements. For information on state poster requirements please visit state Departments of Labor.