June 19, 2019

Wage Hour Chief Stanton removes authority from regional administrators.

Compliance settlements, visas for victims of workplace crime on hold.

The Trump administration’s chief wage enforcer has spent her early weeks in office seizing command of routine casework from her agency’s regional offices and blocking approval of Obama-era investigation tactics, according to Labor Department sources and internal emails.

Cheryl Stanton, who was sworn in as administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division April 29, quickly rescinded all authority previously delegated to her subordinates. The move ensures the former business lawyer has the final say on many of the minimum wage, overtime pay, and family leave investigations that her agency’s vast bureaucracy handles in a given week.

Stanton’s heightened oversight of the division’s more than 60 regional and district offices reflects an attempt to better grasp ongoing operations to start to develop an eventual agenda. She has already begun to gradually return some of the authority to regional administrators and their staff on a piecemeal basis. But in its initial weeks, Stanton’s policy has sparked alarm among career officials, delayed the recovery of back pay employers owe workers, and frozen the agency’s processing of time-sensitive visa applications for victims of workplace crimes.

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[F]ormer WHD official Michael Hancock said the move is an auspicious start to Stanton’s relationship with career staffers who carry out the division’s work in offices across the country.

“To revoke all the delegations of authority that the regional administrators have traditionally had is sending a signal to the field that the national office doesn’t trust them to use their experience and judgment and knowledge to exercise what heretofore had been fairly routine authorities,” said Hancock, whose career at the agency spanned three presidents and multiple administrator initiations. “It’s a troubling message.”

During the first two plus years of Donald Trump’s presidency, the Wage and Hour Division was mostly led by politically appointed acting administrators, as Stanton’s nomination lingered in the Senate for 17 months. The acting agency heads mostly deferred to regional offices rather than impeding their casework, according to the sources. They focused instead on big-ticket items like regulations and opinion letters that provide interpretive guidance.

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Hancock, the former WHD official who is now an attorney representing workers at Cohen Milstein in New York, said the impact of Stanton’s directives will be tough to undo.

“To come in and just use a meat ax to say I don’t trust the field to do a professional job and I’m going to assume for myself authority for virtually everything that the organization does, that’s not a good message,” he said. “That genie is going to be hard to put back in the bottle.”

The complete article can be accessed here.