What Is the Department of Labor (DOL)?

The Department of Labor (DOL) is a U.S. cabinet-level agency responsible for enforcing federal labor standards and promoting workers' wellbeing. The office is headed by the Secretary of Labor, which has been filled by Eugene Scalia since Sept. 27, 2019.

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Labor (DOL), formed in 1913, is a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal labor standards and occupational safety.
  • The DOL's goal is to create employment opportunities, protect retirement and healthcare benefits, help employers find workers, encourage collective bargaining, and track changes.
  • The DOL enforces many laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes minimum wage standards and overtime pay.
  • The DOL is the parent agency of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which provides important data, such as the unemployment rate and the consumer price index.
  • The Department of Labor and the Department of Education will be merged into one new entity called the Department of Education and the Workforce.

Understanding the Department of Labor (DOL)

The Department of Labor (DOL) works to improve working conditions and the overall health of the labor market. It aims to create employment opportunities, to protect retirement and healthcare benefits, to help employers find workers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to track changes in a range of relevant economic metrics.

The DOL is in charge of administering several federal labor laws. It is also the parent agency of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which collects and publishes labor market and economic data, including the unemployment rate and the Consumer Price Index.

On June 21, 2018, President Donald Trump announced a plan to merge the Department of Labor and the Department of Education. The new entity, as reported by CNBC, will be called the Department of Education and the Workforce. The single Cabinet is expected to provide better organization, efficiency, and consolidation in services. 

The White House statement cites nearly 40 workforce development programs across various agencies for job-seekers and a large number of certifications required by small businesses as examples of bureaucratic layers that this move hopes to simplify. This plan needs congressional approval to go into effect. 

Laws Enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL)

The Department of Labor enforces over 180 federal labor laws. One example is the Fair Labor Standards Act, 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 a person younger than 16 can work and restricts those younger than 18 from performing dangerous jobs.

Another example is the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which regulates the safety and health conditions employers are required to maintain. The law is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency of the DOL.

Other laws enforced by the Department of Labor and its agencies include those dealing with worker's compensation, unions, benefits, and parental and medical leave.

History of the Department of Labor (DOL)

The Department of Labor (DOL) was created in 1913 by President Taft, shortly before President Woodrow Wilson took office. The Act that created the DOL specified that its purpose was "to foster, promote and develop the welfare of working people, to improve their working conditions, and to enhance their opportunities for profitable employment."

The DOL included four existing bureaus at the time of its creation, which were the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Bureau of Immigration, the Bureau of Naturalization, and the Children's Bureau. It also included the U.S. Conciliation Service. The first Secretary of Labor was Congressman William B. Wilson, who held the position till 1921.

In 1916, Congress passed the Adamson Act, the first federal law to affect the terms of employment by private companies. It also created an eight-hour workday for railroad workers. The DOL has since assumed control over several aspects of the workplace and labor market.

Notably, Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet member, was appointed Secretary of Labor in 1933.