Patricia Smith (pictured at the podium) is now finally confirmed as the Solicitor of Labor, the official legal counsel for the U.S. Department of Labor. On June 25, 2010, she spoke to the annual convention of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA). "Labor rights are civil rights," Smith told us, making clear that she intends to elevate labor policy to the moral level of the Civil Rights Movement.
She stated that the Department will issue new rulesthat will call on employers to "plan, prevent and protect." The goal is to stop the culture of noncompliance, the "catch me if you can" mentality. Employers will be required to issue safety plans, then implement the plan (prevent) and review and change the plan (prevent) as indicated by implementation. Employers themselves will have to look for risks and ways to reduce them.
In the wage and hour area, new rules will increase the employer's duty of recordkeeping and give employees a right to have the information collected about them.
The Department of Labor will address the "epidemic of misclassification that is going on in this country."
The Solicitor's office is now issuing more general Administrative Interpretations instead of the more specific opinion letters used in the past.
Ms. Smith wants to "reinvigorate" its amicus program. In the wage and hour area, private litigants file 15,000 cases a year. The Department of Labor files 150. So, the Solicitor's office would like to have more impact, without the burden of conducting litigation, by submitting amicus briefs. Attorneys are invited to submit requests for amicus briefs from the Solicitor's office.
Finally, the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, did an outreach PSA on wage and hour rights. She said that employees should be paid fairly, "regardless of status." Ms. Smith said, "I want to say publicly that I stand by that statement. The FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] applies to everyone regardless of status."