Earlier this week, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced its regulatory agenda for Spring 2010. As always, the plan includes a number of discrete areas where the DOL plans to draft or revise regulations (for example, to require coal mine operators to inspect areas where miners will be working). This time around, the agenda also includes a broad paradigm shift: The DOL wants to replace what it calls a "catch me if you can" model, in which violations are stemmed only if and when the DOL steps in, to a "plan/prevent/protect" model, in which employers take the lead in finding, fixing, and preventing workplace problems.
What will this mean in practice? It's not entirely clear, as the DOL hasn't yet issued any proposed regulations or concrete details of how the plan will shape up. However, The New York Times reported today that the new approach will require employers to draft compliance plans explaining how they will make sure they aren't violating workplace safety and wage and hour laws. Employers will also be required to document key decisions -- for example, why the employer has determined that an employee is exempt from overtime or that a worker should be classified as an independent contractor rather than an employee -- and then provide that documentation to both the worker and the DOL.