US Department of Labor: Role & Purpose

Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

The federal government leaves much of the labor market in the hands of the free market, but it understands that workers need some support and protection. In this lesson, we'll learn about the U.S. Department of Labor and how it supports American workers.

What Is the U.S. Department of Labor?

The U.S. Department of Labor, or DOL, is a federal agency responsible for supporting and protecting U.S. employees from unfair labor practices. This agency regulates the minimum wage, overtime, and other employee-related regulations.

The DOL is part of the executive branch, which means it's headed by an appointed member of the president's Cabinet. While the DOL doesn't create labor laws, it enforces them as best it can. The department's overall mission is to promote and ensure the fair treatment of workers, job seekers, and retirees, as well as enforcing regulations regarding work conditions, employment opportunities, benefits, and other work-related rights.

About 30 different agencies comprise the DOL, all under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Labor (who is No. 10 in the presidential line of succession). One of the most well-known is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which ensures employers provide safe, healthful work conditions through regulation enforcement, violation investigations, and regular inspections. Another major agency is the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which conducts and publishes research on employment growth, unemployment rates, average wages, and other statistical information.

Role of the DOL

The DOL is an important part of the labor market in the United States. A free market economy doesn't always recognize the difference between ethical and unethical behavior, as participants generally make decisions based solely on supply, demand, and resources. For example, a participant of the free market might see a high-demand situation and take advantage by increasing the input of labor to boost output.

That sounds good, unless it requires people to work 80-hour workweeks. That's a situation where the DOL has jurisdiction. It would enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires the company to pay employees at least 150% of their hourly wage for any time over 40 hours per week.

In addition to making sure employers are fair to employees in terms of compensation and work schedules, a major role of the DOL is to ensure workplaces are safe. This involves interpreting laws to create rules and guidelines for employers, such as the requirements of posting notifications for workers, providing training and resources, and making sure workers know they're protected.

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