New York Wage-Hour Law

On March 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) released two opinion letters concerning the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). One letter addresses the interplay between New York State’s overtime exemption for residential janitors (colloquially referred to as apartment “supers”) and the FLSA, which does not exempt such employees, and the other addresses whether time spent participating in an employer’s optional volunteer program constitutes “hours worked” requiring compensation under the FLSA.

While these opinion letters may not apply to all employers, they discuss general legal principles of broad applicability and so should be studied closely. In particular, these opinion letters are a useful reminder that (1) compliance with state law does not excuse noncompliance with the FLSA and generally will not constitute a good faith defense, and (2) when an employer directs or pressures an employee to volunteer, such as imposing consequences for not volunteering or guaranteeing a bonus for volunteering, volunteer time will likely constitute “hours worked” under the FLSA.

New York’s Residential Janitor Exemption:

In Opinion Letter FLSA 2019-1, the WHD addressed the interplay between federal and state minimum wage and overtime law in the context of live-in superintendents exempt from state minimum wage and overtime requirements under New York’s “residential janitor” exemption.

Starting with general legal principles, the WHD advised that when federal wage and hour law diverges from state or local law, the employer must comply with both laws and meet the standard of whichever law gives the employee the most protection.

The WHD then confirmed that the FLSA offers no analogue to New York’s residential janitor exemption, and that employers cannot rely on this or other state law exemptions from state law minimum wage and overtime requirements to establish a good faith defense to noncompliance with the FLSA.

But the WHD’s analysis did not end there. It explained that when an employee resides on the employer’s premises either permanently or for extended periods of time (whether as a building superintendent or otherwise), not all of the employee’s time at the residence is necessarily “hours worked” under the FLSA.

Here, the WHD cited the longstanding principle that time an employee spends on the premises eating, sleeping, entertaining or engaging in his own pursuits, free from any job-related duties, is not hours worked under the FLSA and need not be compensated. To reduce confusion about when an employee is actually working, the parties can establish a “reasonable agreement” establishing which hours on the premises are hours worked, thereby eliminating the need for precise recordkeeping of work hours. 

Participation in Employer-Sponsored Optional Volunteer Program:

 In FLSA 2019-2, the WHD examined employee participation in an employer’s optional community service program, pursuant to which employees were compensated for the time they spent volunteering during working hours or while they were required to be on the employer’s premises but were not compensated for hours that they spent volunteering outside of normal working hours (which occurred frequently). At the end of the year, those employees with the greatest community impact, decided, in part, based on the total overall hours each employee volunteered, receive a monetary award.

Relying on several previous opinion letters concerning volunteer activities, the WHD concluded that participation in the described program does not count as hours worked under the FLSA because:

  • The employer does not require participation in the program nor control or direct volunteer work;
  • Employees do not suffer adverse employment consequences if they do not participate in the program;
  • The employer does not guarantee participating employees a bonus for volunteering; and
  • The employer does not pressure its employees to participate in the program.

The WHD also confirmed that an employer can use a mobile device application to track a participating employee’s time spent volunteering and determine which team’s volunteering has the greatest community impact, provided that this application is not used to direct or control the volunteering activities.

The New York State Department of Labor (“NYSDOL”) recently announced that it would no longer pursue employee scheduling regulations concerning “call-in” (or “on-call”) pay and other so-called predictive scheduling matters. As we previously reported, the proposed regulations, if adopted, would have required most employers in New York State to provide call-in pay under various circumstances, even though the employee had not actually worked or, in some situations, had not even reported to work.

Proposed Regulations

The NYSDOL’s proposed regulations had been in the works for several years. As recently as December 2018, the NYSDOL published revised proposed regulations for which they sought the public’s comments. Among other measures, the revised proposed rules would have required covered employers to provide “call-in pay” ranging from two to four hours at the minimum wage rate if the employer (i) failed to provide employees with 14 days’ notice of either their scheduled work shift or the cancellation of their scheduled work shift, (ii) required an employee to work “on-call” or to call in up to 72 hours ahead of their potential next shift, or (iii) decided to send a non-exempt employee home after the employee was instructed to report to work. …

Read the full Advisory online.

On January 24, 2019, Governor Cuomo’s office issued a press release announcing a new proposal to be included in the 2020 Executive Budget aimed at cracking down on wage theft and bolstering the State’s efforts to hold accountable employers who attempt to improperly withhold wages. This proposal would increase the criminal penalties for employers who either knowingly or intentionally commit wage theft violations to bring them in line with other forms of theft.

Presently, only employers who commit repeated wage theft can be prosecuted with a felony. The proposed legislation will amend the New York Labor Law to provide for criminal penalties for employers who knowingly steal wages, with criminal penalties ranging from a Class B misdemeanor for wage theft less than $1,000 to a Class B felony for wage theft exceeding $50,000. Notable effects of the proposal will be the enhancement of the New York State Department of Labor’s ability to make referrals for criminal prosecution to District Attorneys and the Attorney General, as well as the increased likelihood that wage theft violations will be prosecuted as crimes. In addition, the enhanced penalties may deter employers and thus reduce future occurrences of wage theft.

On December 7, 2018, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law an amendment to New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) Section 193 (“NY Wage Deduction Law”) extending the NY Wage Deduction Law, which had expired on November 6, 2018, until November 6, 2020.

Introduced in 2012, the NY Wage Deduction Law amended the NYLL to permit employers to make certain deductions from the wages of their employees, including deductions for accidental overpayments, salary advances (including advances of vacation time), and insurance premiums. The NY Wage Deduction Law also introduced rules regulating the scope and limitations on such deductions, as well as the required authorization that employers must obtain from employees prior to making a deduction.

Additional information about the regulations pertaining to wage deductions under the NY Wage Deduction Law is provided in Epstein Becker Green’s Act Now Advisory titled “New York Wage Deduction Rules Extended for Three Years.”

Read the full Advisory online.

On December 4, 2018, New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (“TLC”) voted to require ride-hailing companies operating in New York City to compensate its drivers who are treated as independent contractors, and not employees, on a per-minute and –mile payment formula, which will result in a $17.22 per hour wage floor.

This new rule is scheduled to take effect on December 31, 2018.

This new minimum wage for independent contractor drivers who operate vehicles on behalf of ride-hailing companies – including Uber, Lyft, Via, and Juno – will surpass the new $15 minimum wage for many New York City-based employees, which will also take effect on December 31, 2018.

This appears to be the first time a government entity has imposed wage rules on privately owned ride-hailing companies.

The main reason for this new requirement is that independent contractor drivers are often required to cover their own expenses that affects their hour wages.

Prior to this rule, ride-hailing app-based drivers were reportedly paid an average of $11.90 per hour (after deducting expenses), which resulted in drivers complaining of severe financial hardship. According to TLC Chair Meera Joshi, this rule would increase driver earnings by an average of $10,000 a year. Joshi also stated that traditional yellow taxicab drivers already earn on average at least $17.22 per hour pursuant to separate regulations.

The wage requirement is expected to have far-reaching repercussions, including:

  • Fare hikes by Uber that may result in customers using New York City yellow taxicabs and Boro Taxis, particularly given the rise of apps that allow riders to hail taxis from their phones, similar to Uber, Lyft, Via, and Juno.
  • Passage of similar minimum wage protections in other locales with a large population of ride-hailing drivers, such as San Francisco.
  • To avoid paying the higher wage prescribed by the rule, Uber, Lyft, Via, and Juno may consider reclassifying their for-hire vehicle drivers as employees, as the new minimum wage rule applies only to drivers who are independent contractors. However, it is anticipated that these companies will conclude that the others costs of employing drivers, such as providing employee benefits, would outweigh the costs of paying drivers the newly instituted minimum wage.

Effective December 31, 2018, New York State’s salary basis threshold for exempt executive and administrative employees[1] will increase again, as a part of amendments to the minimum wage orders put in place in 2016.[2] Employers must increase the salaries of employees classified as exempt under the executive and administrative exemptions by the end of the year to maintain these exemptions.

The increases to New York’s salary basis threshold for the executive and administrative exemptions will take effect as follows:

Employers in New York City 

  • Large employers (11 or more employees)
    • $1,125.00 per week ($58,500 annually) on and after 12/31/18
  • Small employers (10 or fewer employees)
    • $1,012.50 per week ($52,650 annually) on and after 12/31/18
    • $1,125.00 per week ($58,500 annually) on and after 12/31/19

Employers in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties

  • $900.00 per week ($46,800 annually) on and after 12/31/18
  • $975.00 per week ($50,700 annually) on and after 12/31/19
  • $1,050.00 per week ($54,600 annually) on and after 12/31/20
  • $1,125.00 per week ($58,500 annually) on and after 12/31/21

Employers Outside of New York City and Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties

  • $832.00 per week ($43,264  annually) on and after 12/31/18
  • $885.00 per week ($46,020 annually) on and after 12/31/19
  • $937.50 per week ($48,750 annually) on and after 12/31/20

What New York Employers Should Do Now

  • Review executive and administrative exempt positions in New York State with salaries below the stated thresholds to determine whether (a) the employee’s salary should be increased or (b) the employee’s position should be reclassified as non-exempt.
    • For executive and administrative employees remaining exempt, increase their salaries to the new threshold based on their primary work location as of the December 31, 2018, effective date.
    • For employees reclassified to non-exempt, ensure that all of their work time is accurately recorded as of December 31, 2018.
  • Consider establishing procedures to track and update the weekly salaries for employees who work in different locations within New York State.
  • Conduct a regular review of primary duties tests for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions because meeting the salary threshold alone does not confer exempt status upon employees.

Download a PDF of this Advisory.

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[1] New York law does not contain a salary threshold for employees who meet the duties requirements of the professional exemption.

[2] See Epstein Becker Green’s prior Act Now Advisory titled “New York State Department of Labor Implements New Salary Basis Thresholds for Exempt Employees.”

In 2012, we were proud to introduce our free wage and hour app.  Over the years, thousands of clients and potential clients have downloaded the app on their mobile phones and tablets.

For 2018, we are pleased to introduce a brand-new version of the app, available without charge for iPhoneiPad, and Android devices. See our press release here.

Importantly, the 2012 and 2014 versions of the app have been retired.  If you had downloaded them, you will need to download the new version.

The new version of the app includes wage-hour summaries for all 50 states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico.  And it includes updates for 2018, including new state minimum wages and tipped employee rates.

Now more than ever, we can say that the app truly makes nationwide wage-hour information available in seconds. At a time when wage-hour litigation and agency investigations are at an all-time high, we believe the app offers an invaluable resource for employers, human resources personnel, and in-house counsel.

Key features of the updated app include:

  • Summaries of wage and hour laws and regulations, including 53 jurisdictions (federal, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico)
  • Available without charge for iPhoneiPad, and Android devices
  • Quick access to, and a direct feed of, Epstein Becker Green’s award-winning Wage and Hour Defense Blog, which provides up-to-date commentary on wage and hour developments
  • Social media feeds from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube
  • Quick links to Epstein Becker Green’s attorneys and practices – and more!

If you haven’t done so already, we hope you will download the free app soon.  To do so, you can use these links for iPhoneiPad, and Android.

As noted in earlier postings, in March of this year, a federal judge in New York handed Chipotle Mexican Grill a significant victory, denying a request by salaried management apprentices alleging misclassification as exempt from overtime to certify claims for class action treatment under the laws of six states, as well as granting Chipotle’s motion to decertify an opt-in class of 516 apprentices under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The plaintiffs then sought—and in July 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted—a discretionary interlocutory appeal of the ruling concerning the six state-law putative classes, allowing the plaintiffs to obtain immediate review of that decision under Rule 23(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rather than waiting until after final judgment in the case to pursue an appeal as of right.

The plaintiffs also asked the district court for permission to appeal the order decertifying the FLSA collective action.  Under the pertinent statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), a district court may certify a non-final ruling for immediate appeal if the “order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and … an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation[.]”  The plaintiffs argued that “a conflict exists in this Circuit between Rule 23 standards for class certification and FLSA Section [16(b)] standards for certification of a collective action” and that the court’s rulings regarding the FLSA and the state-law classes reflect uncertainty regarding the differences, if any, between the class certification standard and the FLSA decertification standard.

On September 25, 2017, the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for an interlocutory appeal.  Although the court “disagrees with Plaintiffs’ argument that there is a ‘rift’ between” those standards, the court nevertheless concluded that the “Plaintiffs’ assertions do point to controlling questions of law which may have substantial grounds for a difference of opinion.”  (Order at 2.)  The court emphasized that “[t]he Second Circuit will review this Court’s Rule 23 class certification decision pursuant to Rule 23(f)” but that this review “would not likely encompass the portion of this Court’s decision decertifying the . . . collective action.”  (Id.)  Because “Plaintiffs are adamant that the two standards need elucidation and that this Court erred in applying the standards, it seems proper to grant Section 1292(b) relief in order for the Circuit to review the entire” ruling—i.e., both the FLSA and the state-law class aspects of the decision—and thereby “avoid the possibility of conflicting decisions on Plaintiffs’ class motions, promote judicial efficiency, and avoid piecemeal appellate litigation.”  (Id.)  The court also remarked that “the Second Circuit has recognized that class certification decisions have the potential to materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation which the Second Circuit has held may warrant Section 1292(b) relief.”  (Id. at 3.)

Stepping back from the specific wording of the court’s decision, the ruling reflects a pragmatic approach to the matter: because the Second Circuit has already decided to take up the Rule 23 class certification issue in the case, there is no real harm in allowing the appellate court the opportunity to decide whether it also wants to address the FLSA decertification issue at the same time.  The district court’s decision certifying the matter for interlocutory appeal does not require the Second Circuit to hear the full case at this time; instead, it authorizes the plaintiffs to proceed with a petition for permission to that court to appeal the decertification order.

It remains to be seen to what extent this court and other courts will apply the actual verbiage of this decision even-handedly when employers seek review of orders granting class certification or conditionally certifying FLSA collective actions.  Will being “adamant” that the law needs “elucidation” and that the court “erred” features of nearly every employer-side request for interlocutory review—or the “potential” for class certification decisions “to materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation” similarly lead to interlocutory review when employers make comparable requests?  Stay tuned for further developments.

Our colleague Adriana S. Kosovych, associate at Epstein Becker Green, has a post on the Hospitality Employment and Labor blog that will be of interest to many of our readers: “Chipotle Exploits Wide Variation Among Plaintiffs to Defeat Class and Collective Certification.

Following is an excerpt:

A New York federal court recently declined to certify under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 23”) six classes of salaried “apprentices” at Chipotle restaurants asserting claims for overtime pay under New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) and parallel state laws in Missouri, Colorado, Washington, Illinois, and North Carolina, on the theory that they were misclassified as exempt executives in Scott et al. v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. et al., Case No. 12-CV-8333 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2017).  The Court also granted Chipotle’s motion to decertify the plaintiffs’ conditionally certified collective action under Section 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), resulting in the dismissal without prejudice of the claims of 516 plaintiffs who had opted in since June 2013.

The putative class and collective action of apprentices working in certain of Chipotle’s 2,000-plus restaurants nationwide were provisionally employed while being trained to become general managers of new Chipotle locations. The Scott action challenged Chipotle’s blanket exempt classification of the apprentice position, claiming that the duties plaintiffs actually performed during the majority of their working time were not managerial, and therefore, as non-exempt employees they were entitled to receive overtime pay. …

Read the full post here.

Featured on Employment Law This Week:  Another Department of Labor action currently in limbo is the new federal salary thresholds for the overtime exemption. But New York went ahead with its own increased thresholds, sealing the deal at the end of 2016.

In New York City, the threshold is now $825 a week, or $42,950 annually, for an executive or administrative worker at a company with 11 or more employees. The salary thresholds will increase each year, topping out at $1,125 per week in New York City and in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties.

Watch the segment below and see our colleagues’ advisory.