Acosta out: Where will DOL go from here?

In the wake of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s decision to resign Friday, industry experts say his replacement may help speed up DOL initiatives ahead of the 2020 election. Acosta will be replaced by Deputy Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella, who is regarded by Democrats and labor unions as more aggressively pro-business.

Incoming acting Labor Secretary Pizzella is formerly a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority appointed by President Barack Obama.

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“The reality is, you’re talking about a year and a half left [until elections]. I don’t have any reason to believe there are any new major initiatives,” Society for Human Resource Management CEO Johnny Taylor, Jr., tells EBN.

Initiatives that are on DOL’s agenda — for example, the focus on increasing labor participation rates, apprenticeships, the overtime rule — were laid out in the first 2.5 years of the administration. The department will likely spend the next year and a half trying get their legislative efforts underway and regulatory items off their plate ahead of the election, Taylor says.

“What we are hoping is that [Pizzella] will continue the practice of meeting with businesses and employers to ensure before they going down the pipe of rolling out any new initiatives or regulations is that they talk with us,” he adds. “Not that we’ll always agree, but we’ll at least be given the opportunity to reflect and opine about what is being proposed.”

Paul DeCamp, a member of law firm Epstein Becker Green’s employment, labor and workforce management practice, says that it is likely the course he charts for the department will not differentiate much from Acosta — but as the 2020 election looms, he may have a faster timetable.

“The main point of differentiation appears to be that while the department thus far in the administration has moved in a very slow and cautious manner with respect to nearly all matters of any importance, things are now likely to move at a faster pace,” DeCamp says. “Under this new leadership, there will likely be a renewed commitment to making as much progress as possible to advance the President’s agenda between now and January of 2021.”

Employers should expect Pizzella to prioritize public comments on proposed rules the department has issued, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, DeCamp says. The DOL may also focus on completing updates to Part 541 overtime exemption regulations in a timely manner.

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“The department is very much aware of the calendar for completing regulatory actions during the current term, and there will surely be an emphasis on avoiding a repeat of what happened last time with the overtime rule,” DeCamp adds. “We may even see a final rule before the end of the year, or else earlier in 2020 than might have been the case before Secretary Acosta’s departure.”

Michael Lotito, co-chair of the Workplace Policy Institute at Littler Mendelson, said in a tweet that Pizzella is a “great choice” for acting secretary and that the move would ensure “continuity at [a] critical time for the department.” In addition, Lotito says he is “confident” the Acosta’s resignation will not impact the progress of changes to the DOL overtime rule.

But for many, it is too soon to tell what Acosta’s departure will mean for the department. Much of the pending benefits legislation has been underway for some time and will not likely be impacted by the move, says Jason Hammersla, vice president of communications for American Benefits Council.

“Secretary Acosta’s departure is therefore unlikely to lead to a dramatic change of course. If Congress is able to pass retirement reform legislation this year, DOL will have a lot more work to do,” he says.

Regardless, David Lewis, CEO of HR outsourcing and consulting firm OperationsInc, says it is always a best practice for employers to pay attention to what is happening in the state and federal government, even if things progress slowly.

“The advice we give everybody is just to stay on your toes and keep an eye on these things,” Lewis says. “It is a tortoise-like movement, labor law. You don’t have an excuse for not being prepared.”

Acosta announced his resignation early Friday during a meeting with President Trump at the White House. The decision came after he received scrutiny over his handling of sexual misconduct charges against Jeffrey Epstein, following the announcement of the financier’s indictment.

Acosta signed off on a lenient plea deal with Epstein, while serving as a federal prosecutor in 2007 and 2008, whichallowed Epstein to resolve earlier charges by serving 13 months in a county jail and registering as a sex offender, Bloomberg reported.

"I do not think it is right and fair for this administration's Labor Department to have Epstein as a focus rather than the incredible economy that we have today. And so I called the president this morning. I told him that I thought the right thing was to step aside," Acosta says.

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