DEFINITION of 'Department Of Labor (DOL)'

The Department of Labor is a U.S. cabinet-level agency responsible for enforcing federal labor standards and promoting workers' wellbeing. Currently, the Department is headed by Secretary Alexander Acosta.

BREAKING DOWN '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 opportunities for employment, 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 a number of 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 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 Congress approval to go into effect.

Laws Enforced by the Department of Labor

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-a-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, 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

The predecessor to the modern Department of Labor was the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which was established in 1884 as part of the Department of the Interior in order to gather information about employment and the workplace. From 1903 to 1913 it was combined with the Department of Commerce, and in 1913 it became the independent Department of Labor, with its leader taking a position in the cabinet.

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

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

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