Labor upgrades work-related legal advice site

The Labor Department recently redesigned and expanded its World Wide Web site by making it more user-friendly and informative for people seeking expert legal advice on work-related issues.

Labor recently beefed up its Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses (elaws) Web site, which uses interactive Web-based tools to give advice to the public on compliance issues, workplace laws, rights and responsibilities.

The site, at www.dol.gov/elaws, was established in 1997 and is used primarily by small businesses, legal firms and human resources companies. It relies on systems that imitate the interaction an individual might have with a Labor employment law expert by asking users questions and providing them with pertinent answers.

Two new "virtual advisers" have been added to the elaws site to help answer users' questions. Elaws' advisers enable users to find answers to their questions by electronically sifting through a summary of information on a particular regulation.

One of the two new advisers, the Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor, provides employers and employees with information about federal regulations covering minimum wage, overtime, child labor and recordkeeping requirements. The other new adviser, the Drug-Free Workplace Advisor, contains information about how to establish and maintain an alcohol- and drug-free workplace to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988.

"As technology evolves, so does the elaws Web site," said Roland Droitsch, deputy assistant secretary of Labor for policy. "We are constantly working to improve and to provide the best resources technically possible for our customers. More than 300 sites are linked to our site." In addition to the two new advisers, elaws features 14 others, including one that focuses on the Employment Standards Administration's Family Medical Leave Act and another devoted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's rules and regulations on asbestos, fire safety and confined spaces.

The department also has redesigned the elaws site with a clearer organization of its resources. The old design, for example, simply listed 14 advisers on the home page for users to click. The new design includes a search engine that enables users to search the site by subject or by the agency that mandates a particular regulation, said Mario Distasio, senior analyst at Labor. Users also can click on buttons located on the left-hand side of the home page that organize all 16 advisers into three general groups.

"It's now organized in a variety of ways to help out the user," Distasio said.

The site gives users the benefit of access to expert information around the clock, Distasio said. He said customers who choose to call Labor will not get an answer as quickly as they could through elaws.

The 16 advisers were selected because the regulations they cover are the ones asked about most frequently by the public, Distasio said.

More advisers will be added, Droitsch said. For each, it takes about six months to complete research, technical, legal, policy and quality control work before an adviser can become available online."We have to bottle the expert knowledge," he said.

***Site Survey

www.dol.gov/elaws

This site offers small businesses, legal firms and human resources companies virtual advisers that imitate the interaction between a user and a Labor employment law expert.

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