- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said yesterday her department has reduced, updated and clarified labor regulations in an attempt to make them more understandable to both workers and employers.

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Mrs. Chao outlined changes the Department of Labor has made in the last six years, including an update of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The 1938 act establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child-labor standards.

“Exemptions under 541 of the Fair Labor Standards Act had not been changed since 1941 when Elvis was a teenager,” Mrs. Chao said. “The description of the job duties within the regulation had virtually been frozen in time for over half a century.”

In 2004, the Labor Department issued new rules clarifying and updating the regulations to eliminate the eligibility confusion and make sure all workers knew their rights, she said. Employees can find explanations of the regulations in fact sheets available on the department’s Web site.

“Under the revised regulations, workers clearly know their rights and employers know their responsibilities,” she said.

Along the same lines, Mrs. Chao said, the department has changed from relying on enforcement alone to creating a more preventive strategy through education. These efforts aim to help businesses understand what they need to do to comply with the more than 180 workplace laws the department enforces.

Beginning in 2001, the department developed new tools to provide easy-to-access information on how the laws work. A main component was updating the Web site to provide more detailed information. The department also increased health and safety partnerships with employers, workers and unions, Mrs. Chao said.

“A proactive strategy of trying to prevent workplace hazards and violations from happening in the first place was expanded,” Mrs. Chao said. “The key to this strategy is to help workers and employers understand what the many laws and regulations require of them.”

The speech was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank where Mrs. Chao was a distinguished fellow from 1996 until her appointment to President Bush’s Cabinet in 2001.

Mrs. Chao, who was confirmed by the Senate in January 2001, is the only remaining original member of the Bush Cabinet and the fifth-longest-serving labor secretary in history. The wife of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Mrs. Chao previously worked in the administrations of President Reagan and the first President Bush. She also served as the director of the Peace Corps and as president and chief executive officer of the United Way.