The United States Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division just launched a new initiative called “Essential Workers, Essential Protections” that provides workers with information about the wage and hour laws that apply to them, including instructions on how to contact the DOL with questions or complaints.

In conjunction with this new initiative, the DOL released a set of FAQs regarding pay, hours worked, and job-protected leave during the pandemic. Specifically, the FAQs include questions and answers about the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act, including clarifying that time spent completing health screenings during the workday, or while teleworking, is compensable. The FAQs also address the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and explain who is eligible for FMLA leave and the qualifying reasons for such leave, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the DOL updated its “Worker’s Rights” webpage, and published a new slate of webinars to educate essential workers on the laws that protect them.

“Essential Workers, Essential Protections” represents yet another initiative by the federal government to contend with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, a majority of the essential work in the US is performed by low wage workers who are largely immigrants, women and people of color. According to the DOL’s blog, this new initiative seeks to “ensur[e] that essential workers get paid every penny of the wages they have earned during the pandemic,” by increasing awareness of, and compliance with, federal labor laws.

With the announcement of this new initiative, employers should be prepared for increased scrutiny by the DOL, including audits and penalties for non-compliance.