|November 5, 2008|
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Confidentiality Protocol for Compliance Assistance Telephone Inquiries ("Compliance Assistance Protocol") states the manner in which Department of Labor (DOL) agency staff will respond to the confidentiality concerns of callers requesting compliance assistance information and guidance. The Compliance Assistance Protocol is as follows:
The information provided by an inquirer will be kept confidential within the bounds of the law. For the limited purpose of responding to the inquiry it may be necessary to obtain some identifying information such as the inquirer’s name, business name, business address, and/or telephone number. DOL agency staff handling and responding to compliance assistance inquiries are required to maintain the confidentiality of any caller’s identifying information. Compliance assistance inquiries shall not trigger an inspection, audit, investigation, etc. However, such inquiries will not protect a party from an inspection, audit, investigation, etc. that is the result of ordinary agency operations.
What is the purpose of the Compliance Assistance Protocol?
The Compliance Assistance Protocol provides a uniform policy to alleviate concerns that callers requesting guidance from DOL agency staff have about possibly becoming the targets of enforcement actions by those same agencies as a result of any information provided during a compliance assistance request. The Compliance Assistance Protocol, modeled after the National Call Center Protocol for Confidentiality, describes the manner in which telephone callers seeking compliance assistance information and materials, not those reporting or filing complaints, will be handled throughout the Department of Labor.
What type of inquiry is covered?
The Compliance Assistance Protocol applies only to telephone compliance assistance inquiries received by DOL agencies that are not related to any DOL investigation, inspection, or any other matter where the initial contact with the inquirer was made by DOL.
What is compliance assistance?
Compliance assistance is any effort, tool or communication that is designed to help the regulated community comply with the laws and regulations the Department of Labor administers and enforces.
What is a compliance assistance inquiry?
Generally, callers seeking compliance assistance or compliance assistance materials want clear, concise and accurate information on how to comply with the laws and regulations the Department of Labor administers and enforces. For example, DOL agency staff may answer questions involving notice and poster requirements, provide requested materials, direct callers to a specific DOL web page or provide advice on a specific section of their agency’s regulations 1. Callers may also request information that would require DOL agency staff to refer the caller to another DOL agency and/or a specific agency specialist.
How are compliance assistance inquiries different from complaints?
Complaints discussing detailed or particular factual circumstances that indicate violations of DOL laws are not compliance assistance inquiries 2. Complaints usually involve specific allegations that require DOL enforcement agencies to inspect or investigate workplaces to ensure worker protection. Inquiries identified as complaints by DOL staff are not subject to this protocol and will be referred to the appropriate agency according to its complaint processing procedures.
If during a telephone call, a DOL staff member encounters a life threatening emergency situation that requires him or her to take actions within his or her authority to address the life threatening emergency situation, then confidentiality cannot be maintained. In such a life threatening emergency situation, the DOL agency staff member should affirmatively inform the caller that confidentiality could not be maintained.
Will DOL agency staff collect private or confidential information?
As a general rule, DOL agency staff do not collect confidential information such as social security numbers and claim numbers. Also, DOL agency staff do not collect private information such as medical conditions and specific employment situations when responding to telephone compliance assistance inquiries. Individuals making the compliance assistance inquiry have the right to remain anonymous and not provide any identifying information. However, when DOL agency staff make a referral to another agency or when DOL agency staff respond to a request for stock pamphlet, brochures, or similar requested materials, DOL agency staff will need to obtain some identifying information from the caller, such as a name, business identification, the caller’s mailing address, and/or telephone number. Where DOL agency staff are responding to a caller’s requests for information or making a referral to another agency, DOL agency staff will assure callers seeking compliance assistance that their information request or referral will not result in an enforcement action being implemented (against the caller). In addition, certain information may be retained for purposes of measuring the effectiveness of DOL’s compliance assistance program.
What happens when DOL employees improperly breach a caller’s confidentiality?
Confidentiality breaches, such as violations of this policy, will be handled according to DOL policy and practice, including collective bargaining agreements, governing employee performance and conduct.
Are there any record keeping requirements?
Information gathered by DOL agency staff to respond to compliance assistance inquiries will be processed for disposal/destruction in accordance with established federal records schedules.
If a caller inquires about the confidential nature of the information they have provided, what should the DOL agency staff say?
DOL agency staff will respond as follows:
Information provided will be kept confidential within the bounds of the law. The telephone that I use may be able to identify your phone number because of the Caller ID feature. In addition, for the limited purpose of responding to your inquiry, it may be necessary for me to obtain some identifying information such as your name, name of business or location, and telephone number. Please be assured that DOL staff handling and responding to compliance assistance inquiries are required to maintain the confidentiality of any caller’s identifying information. Your compliance assistance inquiry will not trigger an inspection, audit, investigation, etc. However, your inquiry will not protect you from an inspection, audit, investigation, etc. that is the result of ordinary agency operations.__________________
1 These specific examples of compliance assistance inquiries are different from a situation where an individual makes a proper request for agency records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). DOL will process a request for agency records under the Department’s published FOIA regulations.
2 In addition, communications that would start the running of a statute of limitations are not compliance assistance inquiries. An example of such a communication would be a report to the Employee Benefits Security Administration of a named person's specific activities that violate ERISA.