Alex Acosta was confirmed by the Senate to be the next Secretary of Labor.  He now takes responsibility for several high-profile issues with critical implications for government contractors.

As we have previously written, the Labor Department was an exceptionally active regulator from 2013 through the end of the Obama Administration.  Although few of us expect that pace to continue, Secretary Acosta will have to balance two competing pressures.  On one hand, the President has already signed a law repealing one of the Labor Department’s most controversial regulations (the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule) and directed agencies to review current regulations with a critical eye.  On the other hand, Acosta will be leading a department charged with enforcing the laws that protect or favor workers’ rights, which sometimes compete with the priorities of their employers. 

These potentially opposing viewpoints were on display during Acosta’s confirmation hearing where he was pressed repeatedly by Senators to discuss his views on various regulations.  Asked by Senator Roberts to give his “overall philosophy on regulation,” Acosta emphasized the need to eliminate regulations “that are not serving a useful purpose,” and the need to enable small businesses to thrive.

Some uncertainty remains with respect to two specific cases that government contractors are watching closely.  First, the regulations governing paid sick leave were not raised during Acosta’s confirmation hearing, and Acosta has not publicly opined on them.  They were issued late in President Obama’s second term, and therefore fell within the window of the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”), but the level of chatter about repealing those regulations has lately been quite low.

Second, the Department is currently litigating proposed changes to overtime pay rules.  A district court held last year that the Department acted without authorization by doubling the salary threshold for defining executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and computer employees (so-called “white collar” employees) from approximately $24,000 to $47,000.  Acosta demurred when Senators asked for his opinion on the merits of the case.  He acknowledged, however, that the large increase was partially a result of the long delay in adjusting the salary threshold, which had not been changed since 2004.  Adjusting for cost of living rises, Acosta suggested, would result in a revised threshold closer to $33,000.  He declined to say whether the Labor Department might change its position in the litigation in the Fifth Circuit, where briefing is scheduled to be complete in at the end of June, or withdraw the rule and propose an alternative.

On a positive note, Acosta expressed support for the practice of publishing detailed “opinion letters” from the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division.  This practice has been halted since 2009.  This type of guidance, although not binding on a court, could provide helpful clarity to employers with contracts covered by the Service Contract Act and the Davis-Bacon Act.

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Photo of Jeff Bozman Jeff Bozman

Jeff Bozman practices with the Public Policy & Government Affairs and Government Contracts practice groups in Washington, DC.  He focuses on the defense and aerospace industry, and on the labor and employment laws that apply to government contractors.

Susan B. Cassidy

Ms. Cassidy represents clients in the defense, intelligence, and information technologies sectors.  She works with clients to navigate the complex rules and regulations that govern federal procurement and her practice includes both counseling and litigation components.  Ms. Cassidy conducts internal investigations for government…

Ms. Cassidy represents clients in the defense, intelligence, and information technologies sectors.  She works with clients to navigate the complex rules and regulations that govern federal procurement and her practice includes both counseling and litigation components.  Ms. Cassidy conducts internal investigations for government contractors and represents her clients before the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), Inspectors General (IG), and the Department of Justice with regard to those investigations.  From 2008 to 2012, Ms. Cassidy served as in-house counsel at Northrop Grumman Corporation, one of the world’s largest defense contractors, supporting both defense and intelligence programs. Previously, Ms. Cassidy held an in-house position with Motorola Inc., leading a team of lawyers supporting sales of commercial communications products and services to US government defense and civilian agencies. Prior to going in-house, Ms. Cassidy was a litigation and government contracts partner in an international law firm headquartered in Washington, DC.

Photo of Lindsay Burke Lindsay Burke

Lindsay Burke co-chairs the firm’s employment practice group and regularly advises U.S., international, and multinational employers on employee management issues and international HR compliance. Her practice includes advice pertaining to harassment, discrimination, leave, whistleblower, wage and hour, trade secret, and reduction-in-force issues arising…

Lindsay Burke co-chairs the firm’s employment practice group and regularly advises U.S., international, and multinational employers on employee management issues and international HR compliance. Her practice includes advice pertaining to harassment, discrimination, leave, whistleblower, wage and hour, trade secret, and reduction-in-force issues arising under federal and state laws, and she frequently partners with white collar colleagues to conduct internal investigations of executive misconduct and workplace culture assessments in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Recently, Lindsay has provided critical advice and guidance to employers grappling with COVID-19-related employment issues.

Lindsay guides employers through the process of hiring and terminating employees and managing their performance, including the drafting and review of employment agreements, restrictive covenant agreements, separation agreements, performance plans, and key employee policies and handbooks. She provides practical advice against the backdrop of the web of state and federal employment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the False Claims Act, with the objective of minimizing the risk of employee litigation. When litigation looms, Lindsay relies on her experience as an employment litigator to offer employers strategic advice and assistance in responding to demand letters and agency charges.

Lindsay works frequently with the firm’s privacy, employee benefits and executive compensation, corporate, government contracts, and cybersecurity practice groups to ensure that all potential employment issues are addressed in matters handled by these groups. She also regularly provides U.S. employment law training, support, and assistance to start-ups, non-profits, and foreign parent companies opening affiliates in the U.S.