June 12, 2017

A shortage of Trump Labor Department officials may be muddling wage enforcement in parts of the country.

The White House has yet to nominate an administrator for DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta hasn’t designated a political adviser to work with the WHD’s career leaders. Absent new policy instructions, field investigators are mostly enforcing minimum wage, overtime, and family leave laws by following policies in place before President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

But wage and hour attorneys say some local offices appear to be changing their attitude toward employers on their own volition, based on an assumption that the agency will eventually become more business-friendly. Examples include investigators withdrawing questions on joint employer relationships, no longer assessing double damages on top of back pay owed, and an observation of fewer new workplace audits overall.

The WHD will always be challenged to get all 1,000 investigators on the same page. But the lack of leadership at the national office could make it more difficult to ensure that the division is speaking with one voice.

“Until there’s political leadership in place below the secretary, I think we’re going to see wage-and-hour on automatic pilot, and one of the consequences of that is that some of the district offices are left to their own devices,” Michael Hancock, a longtime former WHD official, told Bloomberg BNA.

“Some district offices operate business as usual, others may be putting their foot down on the throttle, and others may be pulling back a little bit, given the signals that they received indirectly about the direction of this administration,” added Hancock, who left the agency in 2015.

Now a plaintiffs’ attorney at Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll, Hancock said his remarks were based on his decades of past experience inside the agency, and not on 2017 developments.

This article originally appeared in Bloomberg BNA.