John O'Connor
John O’Connor

As a senior living employer, knowing exactly how to apply and enforce labor rules can be a challenge.

One wrong move and you may find yourself in court, or worse. That’s why this week’s announcement by the Department of Labor to bring back opinion letters comes as welcome news.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, an opinion letter is an official, written opinion by the department’s Wage and Hour Division about how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by an employer, employee or other entity seeking guidance. The letters were standard practice for seven decades, but were mothballed during the Obama administration.

These guides have been especially popular among human resources folks and lawyers attempting to figure out the best way to comply with things like the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and so on.

Besides the practical advice they offer, they also can provide legal cover. Should a court later decide an opinion does not apply to a particular question, employers can avoid liability under the Fair labor Standards Act’s “good faith” provision. 

To seek an opinion, simply go to this website. Although you can seek guidance on your own, you also can submit a request through your legal counsel to preserve anonymity.

The reinstatement will help “employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities so employers can concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs,” said Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. And who can argue with that advice?

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living. Email him at [email protected].