True to its word, the Obama administration is continuing its effort to do administratively what it cannot achieve legislatively.
While efforts to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour are mired in the Congress, the administration on March 13 announced that it has instructed the Secretary of Labor to “update” and “simplify” the regulations defining who is considered an exempt employee not entitled to overtime pay. These regulations were most recently overhauled in 2004.
Regulations "for executive, administrative, and professional employees (often referred to as 'white collar' exemptions) have not kept up with our modern economy.” Barack Obama
The announcement makes it clear that the goal is to significantly narrow the number of individuals who qualify as exempt. A major target of the proposed revisions is the current $455-per-week salary threshold for executive, administrative and professional employees. That threshold is roughly equivalent to $11.38 per hour for a forty-hour week – not much more than the $10.10 minimum wage that the administration seeks, and which it claims is the equivalent of $561 in today’s dollars.
While many exempt employees already make far more than this amount, in some industries – particularly retail and restaurants – front-line managers who currently qualify as executive or administrative employees may not earn much more than this amount, so even a relatively modest increase could cause them to no longer be exempt.
Another likely target may be changing the portion of the definition of an executive employee that currently requires only that the “primary duty” be managing, to a requirement that a fixed percentage of work be devoted to managerial tasks. Again, this is particularly likely to affect the retail and restaurant industry, where managers frequently step in and handle nonexempt tasks when needed.
Fortunately, the regulatory process likely will last at least 18 months, if not longer, and there will be ample opportunity to comment on whatever specific proposed changes the Department of Labor makes, as well as for the Congress to weigh in. In the meantime, this is a good opportunity for employers to review their classifications to make sure exempt individuals are properly classified, and in particular look at how much time they are spending on exempt activities.