DEFINITION of 'Department Of Labor (DOL)'

The Department of Labor is a U.S government cabinet body responsible for standards in occupational safety, wages and number of hours worked, unemployment insurance benefits, re-employment services and a portion of the country's economic statistics.

BREAKING DOWN 'Department Of Labor (DOL)'

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) works to promote the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners and retirees. It strives to improve working conditions and create opportunities for profitable employment. It also works to protect retirement and healthcare benefits, help employers find workers, strengthen collective bargaining, and track changes in employment, prices and other national economic measurements. The Department administers a variety of federal labor laws to achieve these ends.

Laws Enforced by the Department of Labor

The Department of Labor enforces over 180 federal laws related to labor and the work environment. One such law is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets the standards for minimum wages and stipulates that overtime pay must be one and one half times the usual pay rate. It also limits the number of hours someone under 16 can work and restricts those under 18 from entering into employment that is dangerous.

Another law is the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which regulates the safety and health conditions of any given workplace. Employers must comply by providing a workplace that is free of hazards, according to the Act. This act is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the Department of Labor.

Other laws enforced by the Department of Labor and its agencies cover situations such as worker's compensation, unions, benefits, parental and medical leave and more.

History of the Department of Labor

The predecessor to the modern Department of Labor was the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housed under the Department of the Interior and established in 1884 to gather information and statistics about labor, employment and the workplace. After becoming independent for a few years, the Department of Labor once again became a cabinet-level department in 1913 under President William Howard Taft, now housed under the Department of Commerce and Labor. The Department's primary focus was immigration and labor relations.

When the Department of Labor came into existence in 1913, it housed the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Bureau of Immigration, the Children's Bureau and the Bureau of Naturalization, plus the U.S. Conciliation Service (USCS). The importance of working conditions gained prominence when the United States entered World War I, prompting the Department of Labor to create policies on labor, including the 8-hour work day. Similarly, new policies emerged in the 20th century depending on what the country needed at the time, which allowed the Department of Labor to evolve into the all-encompassing labor and human resources department that it is today, including all the bureaus and divisions that were formed to focus on individual issues.

The first Secretary of Labor, William B. Wilson, was appointed in 1913. The first female cabinet member, Frances Perkins, appointed in 1933, was also the longest-serving Secretary of Labor at 12 years.

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