Worker Center Network

Labor Law

The Department of Labor (DOL) administers and enforces more than 180 federal laws. 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 website 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.

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.

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), which is part of ESA.

Employee Protection

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.

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.

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 ESA's Wage and Hour Division. ESA's 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. ESA's 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. ESA's 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 ESA's Wage and Hour Division.

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.

Pieces from the U.S. Department of Labor Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor