U.S. Code of Federal Regulations

Regulations most recently checked for updates: Jun 07, 2023

§ 790.18 - “Administrative practice or enforcement policy.”

(a) The terms “administrative practice or enforcement policy” refer to courses of conduct or policies which an agency has determined to follow 111 in the administration and enforcement of a statute, either generally, or with respect to specific classes of situations. 112 Administrative practices and enforcement policies may be set forth in statements addressed by the agency to the public. 113 Although they may be, and frequently are, based upon decisions or views which the agency has set forth in its regulations, orders, rulings, approvals, or interpretations, nevertheless administrative practices and enforcement policies differ from these forms of agency action in that such practices or policies are not limited to matters concerned with the meaning or legal effect of the statutes administered by the agency and may be based wholly or in part on other considerations.

111 The agency may have determined to follow the course of conduct or policy for a limited time only (see paragraphs (c) and (f), this section) or for an indefinite time (see paragraph (b), this section), or for a period terminable by the happening of some contingency, such as a final decision in pending litigation.

112 See United States v. Minnesota, 270 U.S. 181 (1926); United States v. Boston & Maine R.R. Co., 279 U.S. 732 (1929); Lucas v. American Code Co., 280 U.S. 445 (1930); Estate of Sanford v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 308 U.S. 39 (1939). See also Final Report of Attorney General's Committee on Administrative Procedure in Government Agencies, pp. 26–29; 1 Von Baur, Federal Administrative Law (1942), p. 474.

As to requirement that practice or policy be one with respect to a “class of employers,” see paragraph (g) of this section.

113 Pursuant to section 3 of the Administrative Procedure Act, statements of general policy formulated and adopted by the agency for the guidance of the public are published in the Federal Register. An example is the statement of the Secretary of Labor and the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, dated June 16, 1947, published in 12 FR 3915.

(b) To illustrate this distinction, suppose the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division issues a general statement indicating that in his opinion a certain class of employees come within a specified exemption from provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act in any workweek when they do not engage in a substantial amount of nonexempt work. Such a statement is an “interpretation” within the meaning of sections 9 and 10 of the Portal Act. Assume that at the same time, the Administrator states that for purposes of enforcement, until further notice such an employee will be considered as engaged in a substantial amount of nonexempt work in any workweek when he spends in excess of a specified percentage of his time in such nonexempt work. This latter type of statement announces an “administrative practice or enforcement policy” within the meaning of sections 9 and 10 of the Portal Act.

(c) An administrative practice or enforcement policy may, under certain circumstances be at variance with the agency's current interpretation of the law. For example, suppose the Administrator announces that as a result of court decisions he has changed his view as to coverage of a certain class of employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, he may at the same time announce that in order to give affected employers an opportunity to make the adjustments necessary for compliance with the changed interpretation, the Wage and Hour Division will not commence to enforce the Act on the basis of the new interpretation until the expiration of a specified period.

(d) In the statement of the managers on the part of the House, accompanying the report of the Conference Committee on the Portal-to-Portal Act, it is indicated (page 16) that under sections 9 and 10 “an employer will be relieved from liability, in an action by an employee, because of reliance in good faith on an administrative practice or enforcement policy only (1) where such practice or policy was based on the ground that an act or omission was not a violation of the (Fair Labor Standards) Act, or (2) where a practice or policy of not enforcing the Act with respect to acts or omissions led the employer to believe in good faith that such acts or omissions were not violations of the Act.”

(e) The statement explaining the Conference Committee Report goes on to say, “However, the employer will be relieved from criminal proceedings or injunctions brought by the United States, not only in the cases described in the preceding paragraph, but also where the practice or policy was such as to lead him in good faith to believe that he would not be proceeded against by the United States.”

(f) The statement explaining the Conference Committee Report gives the following illustrations of the above rules:

An employer will not be relieved from liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to his employees (in an action by them) for the period December 26, 1946, to March 1, 1947, if he is not exempt under the “Area of Production” regulations published in the Federal Register of December 25, 1946, notwithstanding the press release issued by the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, in which he stated that he would not enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 on account of acts or omissions occurring prior to March 1, 1947. On the other hand, he will, by reason of the enforcement policy set forth in such press releases, have a good defense to a criminal proceeding or injunction brought by the United States based on an act or omission prior to March 1, 1947.

(g) It is to be noted that, under the language of sections 9 and 10, an employer has a defense for good faith reliance on an administrative practice or an enforcement policy only when such practice or policy is “with respect to the class of employers to which he belonged.” 114 Thus where an enforcement policy has been announced pertaining to laundries and linen-supply companies serving industrial or commercial establishments the operator of an establishment furnishing window-washing service to industrial and commercial concerns, who relied upon that policy in regard to his employees, has no defense under sections 9 and 10. The enforcement policy upon which he claimed reliance did not pertain to “the class of employers to which he belonged.”

114 This provision, which appeared for the first time in the conference bill, to which the term “practice” was restored after elimination by the Senate, was apparently designed to meet some of the objections which led to elimination of the word “practice” from the bill reported by the Senate judiciary Committee. Cf. remarks of Senator Murray, 93 Cong. Rec. 2238; remarks of Senator Johnston, 93 Cong. Rec. 2373; colloquy between Senators Lucas and Donnell, 93 Cong. Rec. 2185; remarks of Senator McGrath, 93 Cong. Rec. 2254–2256.

(h) Administrative practices and enforcement policies, similar to administrative regulations, orders, rulings, approvals and interpretations required affirmative action by an administrative agency. 115 This should not be construed as meaning that an agency may not have administrative practices or policies to refrain from taking certain action as well as practices or policies contemplating positive acts of some kind. 116 But before it can be determined that an agency actually has a practice or policy to refrain from acting, there must be evidence of its adoption by the agency through some affirmative action establishing it as the practice or policy of the agency. 117 Suppose, for example, that shoe factories in a particular area were not investigated by Wage and Hour Division inspectors operating in the area. This fact would not establish the existence of a practice or policy of the Administrator to treat the employees of such establishments, for enforcement purposes, as not subject to the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, in the absence of proof of some affirmative action by the Administrator adopting such a practice or policy. A failure to inspect might be due to any one of a number of different reasons. It might, for instance, be due entirely to the fact that the inspectors' time was fully occupied in inspections of other industries in the area.

115 See Union Stockyards & Transit Co. v. United States, 308 U.S. 213, 223 (1939); and United States v. American Union Transport, Inc., 327 U.S. 437, 454 (1946). Cf. Federal Trade Commission v. Bunte Brothers, Inc., 312 U.S. 349, 351 (1941). See also President's message of May 14, 1947, 93 Cong. Rec. 5281.

116 See, for example, Mintz v. Baldwin, 289 U.S. 346, 349 (1933), where the Department of Agriculture announced “its policy for the present is to leave the control (of Bang's disease) with the various States.” See also in this connection the statement of June 23, 1947, by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary regarding the President's message of May 14, 1947, on the Portal-to-Portal Act, 93 Cong. Rec. 5281.

117 Union Stockyards & Transit Co. v. United States, supra. It may be noted in this connection that examples given by the sponsors of the legislation, in discussing the terms “administrative practice or enforcement policy,” involved situations in which affirmative action had been taken by the agency. Conference Report, p. 16; 93 Cong. Rec. 2185, 2198, 4389–4391.

(i) It was pointed out above that sections 9 and 10 do not offer a defense to the employer who relies upon a regulation, order, ruling, approval or interpretation which at the time of his reliance has been rescinded, modified or determined by judicial authority to be invalid. The same is true regarding administrative practices and enforcement policies. 118 However, a plea of a “good faith” defense is not defeated by the fact that after the employer's reliance, the practice or policy is rescinded, modified, or declared invalid.

118 See § 790.17 (h) and (i), and footnotes 111 and 112.