A year ago, employers across the country prepared for the implementation of a new overtime rule that would dramatically increase the salary threshold for white-collar exemptions, on the understanding that the new rule would soon go into effect “unless something dramatic happens,” a phrase we and others used repeatedly.

And, of course, something dramatic did happen—a preliminary injunction, followed by a lengthy appeal, which itself took more left turns following the U.S. presidential election than a driver in a NASCAR race. The effect was to put employers in a constant holding pattern as they were left to speculate whether and when the rule would ever go into effect.

The current status of the overtime rule is but one of several prominent issues to reckon with as wage and hour issues, investigations, and litigation remain as prevalent as they have ever been.

The articles in this edition of Take 5 include the following:

  1. The Status of the Department of Labor’s 2016 Overtime Rule
  2. Recent Developments Regarding Tip Pooling
  3. Mandatory Class Action Waivers in Employment Agreements: Is a Final Answer Forthcoming?
  4. “Time Rounding”: The Next Wave of Class and Collective Actions
  5. The Department of Labor, Congress, and the Courts Wrestle with the Definition of “Employee”

Read the full Take 5 online or download the PDF.

As many will recall, the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) overtime rule, increasing the salary threshold for overtime exemptions at the behest of the Obama administration, was scheduled to take effect on December 1, 2016. Months later, it remains in limbo before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal. And it apparently will remain in limbo for at least several more months.

After publication of the final overtime rule on May 23, 2016, two lawsuits were filed by a coalition of 21 states and a number of business advocacy groups, claiming that the DOL exceeded its rulemaking authority in finalizing the overtime rule. The lawsuits, which were consolidated, sought a variety of relief, including a preliminary injunction blocking the overtime rule from taking effect.

Days before the final rule went into effect, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted Plaintiffs’ motion and issued a nationwide preliminary injunction. Prior to President Trump’s inauguration, the Department of Labor appealed the order to the Fifth Circuit. Thereafter, the DOL was granted two extensions of time to consider whether it wished to proceed with the appeal.

The most recent extension was set to expire on May 1, 2017 . Now, the DOL has requested – and the Fifth Circuit has granted – yet another 60-day extension because Secretary of Labor nominee Alexander Acosta has not yet been confirmed. In granting the extension, the Fifth Circuit continued the DOL’s deadline to file its reply brief to June 30, 2017.

This most recent extension will give additional time to the DOL to evaluate its options, which includes abandoning the appeal and any further efforts to implement and enforce the overtime rule. It is important to keep in mind, however, that even though Secretary of Labor Nominee Acosta does not appear to support the Obama administration’s plan to more than double the salary threshold, he has expressed opinions that suggest he would support updating the overtime rule to some degree, possibly increasing the salary threshold to mirror inflation. It is also important to be mindful that certain states, including New York and California, have a higher minimum salary threshold than the current federal requirement of $455 per week. We will continue to monitor and report on this important matter as it develops.

On January 20, 2016, the DOL issued Wage and Hour Division Administrator’s Interpretation 2016-1 (“AI”) providing that businesses that use employees of third parties may be considered “joint employers” of those workers for purposes of compliance with the FLSA. The genesis of the joint-employment AI is the DOL’s expectation that businesses may seek to avoid the high costs and potential liabilities of maintaining their own employee workforce.

Although this AI is less than a year old, there are longstanding federal regulations on joint employment stating that when the employee performs work that simultaneously benefits two or more employers, or works for two or more employers at different times during the workweek, a joint-employment relationship generally will be considered to exist in situations where: (1) employers share an employee’s services, (2) one employer acts in the interest of the other employer in relation to the employee, or (3) one employer controls the other employer and therefore shares control of the other employer.

The DOL’s AI on joint employment goes far beyond the streamlined regulations in explaining the complex and comprehensive analysis to determine whether joint employment exists. To that end, the AI focuses on the DOL’s newly envisioned concepts of “horizontal” and “vertical” joint employment.

“Horizontal” Joint Employment

The DOL has explained that “horizontal” joint employment exists where an employee has employment relationships with two or more related or commonly owned businesses. In assessing horizontal joint employment, the DOL focuses on the relationship between the businesses, i.e., putative joint employers, but not the putative employee’s relationship between and among the putative joint employers. The DOL provides, as an example, a server who works for two different restaurants that are commonly owned.

To determine whether horizontal joint employment exists, the DOL considers the following eight criteria:

  1. Is there common ownership or management with respect to the putative joint employers?
  2. Do the putative joint employers have common officers, directors, executives, or directors?
  3. Do the putative joint employers share control over operations of both businesses?
  4. Are the operations of the putative joint employers’ businesses interrelated?
  5. Do the putative joint employers supervise the same employees?
  6. Do the putative joint employers treat employees as part of a pool available to both businesses?
  7. Do the putative joint employers share clients or customers?
  8. Do the putative joint employers maintain any agreements?

“Vertical” Joint Employment

The DOL has explained that “vertical” joint employment occurs when a worker employed by a third party enters into a work relationship with the putative joint employer. This arrangement commonly involves staffing agencies.

The AI states that in a vertical employment arrangement, the DOL considers the relationship between the putative joint employers and the worker. The DOL will first examine whether the worker’s direct employer, e.g., the staffing agency, is actually an employee of the putative joint employer. If such a relationship exists, then the DOL automatically finds joint employment.

If no such relationship exists, the DOL will then conduct an “economic realities” analysis to determine whether an employee of one business, e.g., the staffing agency, is economically dependent on another business that is the beneficiary of the services performed by the staffing agency’s employee. The AI provides the following economic realities criteria:

  • Directing, Controlling, or Supervising the Work Performed. To the extent that the work performed by the employee is controlled or supervised by the putative joint employer beyond a reasonable degree of contract performance oversight, such control suggests that the employee is economically dependent on the putative joint employer. The potential joint employer’s control can be indirect and still be sufficient to indicate economic dependence by the employee.
  • Controlling Employment Conditions. To the extent that the putative joint employer has the power to hire or fire the employee, modify employment conditions, or determine the rate or method of pay, such control indicates that the employee is economically dependent on the putative joint employer.
  • Permanency and Duration of Relationship. An indefinite, permanent, full-time, or long-term relationship by the employee with the putative joint employer suggests economic dependence.
  • Repetitive Nature of Work. To the extent that the employee’s work for the putative joint employer is repetitive, relatively unskilled, or requires little or no training, such facts indicate that the employee is economically dependent on the putative joint employer.
  • Integral to Business. If the employee’s work is an integral part of the putative joint employer’s business, that fact indicates that the employee is economically dependent on the putative joint employer.
  • Work Performed on Premises. The employee’s performance of the work on premises owned or controlled by the putative joint employer indicates that the employee is economically dependent on the putative joint employer.
  • Performing Administrative Functions Commonly Performed by Employers. To the extent that the putative joint employer performs administrative functions for the employee—such as handling payroll; providing workers’ compensation insurance; providing necessary facilities and safety equipment, housing, or transportation; or supplying tools and materials required for the work—such facts indicate economic dependence by the employee on the putative joint employer.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Take 5 newsletter Five Critical Wage and Hour Issues Impacting Employers.”

Overtime Clock Faces - Abstract PhotoNearly a year after the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address an increase in the minimum salary for white collar exemptions, the DOL has announced its final rule, to take effect on December 1, 2016.

While the earlier notice had indicated that the salary threshold for the executive, administrative, and professional exemption would be increased from $23,660 ($455 per week) to $50,440 ($970 per week), the final rule will not raise the threshold that far.  Instead, it will raise it to $47,476 ($913 per week).

According to the DOL’s Fact Sheet, the final rule will also do the following:

  • The total annual compensation requirement for “highly compensated employees” subject to a minimal duties test will increase from the current level of $100,000 to $134,004, which represents the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally.
  • The salary threshold for the executive, administrative, professional, and highly compensated employee exemptions will automatically update every three years to “ensure that they continue to provide useful and effective tests for exemption.”
  • The salary basis test will be amended to allow employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments, such as commissions, to satisfy up to 10 percent of the salary threshold.
  • The final rule does not in any way change the current duties tests.

While it is certainly good news for employers that the duties tests will not be augmented and that non-discretionary bonuses and other incentive payments can be used to partially contribute to the salary threshold, the increase to the salary threshold is expected to extend the right to overtime pay to an estimated 4.2 million workers who are currently exempt.

With the benefit of more than six months until the final rule takes effect, employers should not delay in auditing their workforces to identify any employees currently treated as exempt who will not meet the new salary threshold. For such persons, employers will need to determine whether to increase workers’ salaries or convert them to non-exempt.

As we mentioned earlier this week, I was recently interviewed on our firm’s new video program, Employment Law This Week.  The show has now released “bonus footage” from that episode – see below.

I elaborate on some of the reasons behind this year’s sharp increase in federal wage-and-hour suits: worker-friendly rules, increased publicity around minimum wage and overtime issues, and the difficulties of applying an outdated law to today’s “gig” economy.

The top story on Employment Law This Week – Epstein Becker Green’s new video program – is the record high for Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits in 2015.

The number of federal wage-and-hour suits rose almost 8% this year. There are many reasons for the increase, including more worker-friendly rules and increased publicity around minimum wage and overtime issues. Some point to the difficulties of applying an outdated law to our modern day economy.

Jeff Ruzal, co-editor of this blog, is interviewed. Click below to view the episode.

On October 15, 2015, Epstein Becker Green hosted its 34th Annual Workforce Management Briefing, which featured senior officials from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  This year’s briefing boasted a record setting attendance, including industry leaders, general counsel and senior human resources professionals, many of whom attended the briefing workshop, Wage and Hour Compliance: You Are Not Exempt.

The Wage and Hour workshop featured three of Epstein Becker Green’s wage and hour practice attorneys — Michael Kun, Patrick Brady and Jeffrey Ruzal — who addressed pressing wage and hour issues that face workforce management today.

Much of the program was dedicated to a discussion of two recent U.S. Department of Labor initiatives.  On July 6, 2015, the DOL published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that, when finalized, would extend overtime protection to approximately five million white-collar workers who are currently not entitled to overtime pay because they are exempt from the FLSA.  Shortly thereafter, on July 15, 2015, the DOL’s Wage and Hour Administrator David Weil issued Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1, concluding that many employers throughout the country are improperly classifying workers as independent contractors.  Mike, Pat and Jeff discussed the DOL’s initiatives at length by dissecting the interpretation and proposed regulations, explaining the potential ramifications of non-compliance, and offering potential business-friendly solutions.

In addition to the DOL’s recent initiatives, the program focused on other significant wage and hour issues, including intern misclassification, tip-related issues, and bonus classification.  You can access the workshop’s slide presentation here.

Judging by the rampant increase in the number of wage and hour lawsuits and investigations being brought by the government and private plaintiffs, we expect that we will be reprising our program at the workforce management briefing next year.

 

34th Annual Workforce Management Briefing Banner

When:  Thursday, October 15, 2015    8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Where:  New York Hilton Midtown, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019

This year, Epstein Becker Green’s Annual Workforce Management Briefing focuses on the latest developments that impact employers nationwide, featuring senior officials from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We will also take a close look at the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its growing impact on the workplace.

In addition, we are excited to welcome our keynote speaker Neil Cavuto, Senior Vice President, Managing Editor, and Anchor for both FOX News Channel and FOX Business Network.

Our industry-focused breakout sessions will feature panels composed of Epstein Becker Green attorneys and senior executives from major companies, discussing issues that keep employers awake at night.  From the latest National Labor Relations Board developments to data privacy and security concerns, each workshop will offer insight on how to mitigate risk and avoid costly litigation.

View the full briefing agenda here. Contact Kiirsten Lederer or Elizabeth Gannon for more information and to register.   Seats are limited.

More than a year after its efforts were first announced, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has finally announced its proposed new rule pertaining to overtime. And that rule, if implemented, will result in a great many “white collar” employees previously treated as exempt becoming eligible for overtime pay for work performed beyond 40 hours in a workweek – or receiving salary increases in order that their exempt status will continue.

In 2014, President Obama directed the DOL to enhance the “white collar” exemptions to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), which currently exempt from overtime some employees who earn $455 per week, or $23,660 per year.  The DOL’s proposed rule would more than double the salary threshold for an executive, administrative or professional exemption to apply, increasing it to $970 per week, or $50,440 per year.  In addition, the highly compensated employee exemption would increase from $100,000 to $122,148.  Not unimportantly, pursuant to the proposed rule, These salary figures would automatically adjust for annual inflation.  

Somewhat surprisingly, the proposed rule does not propose any enhancements to the duties requirements for an employee to qualify for any of the “white collar” exemptions.  The proposed rule does, however, invite comments regarding the amount of time employees should be engaged in executive, administrative, or professional work to qualify for the exemption.  Under the current federal regulations, exempt work must constitute the employee’s “primary duty.”  That is a qualitative analysis, not a quantitative one.  By inviting comments on consideration of California’s requirement that exempt duties be performed more than 50 percent of the time – a quantitative analysis – the DOL has suggested the possibility of another significant change to “white collar” exemptions.  As California employers know all too well, employees frequently file suit alleging they spend less than 50 percent of their time in exempt activities, challenging their employers to prove otherwise.  

The proposed rule likely will be published shortly in the Federal Register.  Upon publication, the proposed rule will be open to a 60-day comment period.  The DOL will review the comments, respond where appropriate and issue its final regulations.  The regulations will not be subject to Congressional approval.  It is important to note that when the “white collar” exemptions were last revised in 2004, the DOL received over 100,000 comments and spent nearly a full year responding to those comments before finalizing the regulations. 

 

In August, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law HB 5622, amending the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA), which now recognizes for the first time payment of wages by payroll card. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2015. While the law provides a new option for Illinois employers, they must be careful to comply with the conditions under which payroll cards may be used.

Under the current Illinois law, employers are required to pay employees via check or direct deposit. The current law is silent as to whether payroll cards, which operate like debit cards, can be used to pay wages. Some businesses prefer using payroll cards because, by simply loading the card electronically, they can save the costs involved in preparing physical checks. Employees, however, have been adverse to payroll cards because of fees that have been deducted from their wages. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office found that these fees were both excessive and unfair.

Under the new law, payroll cards will be a recognized method of wage payments, but only if the following criteria are met:

• The employee must voluntarily agree to the use of a payroll card as the method the employee chooses to receive his or her wages and/or final compensation. It is not voluntary if the employee is given to understand that it is a condition for hire or his or her present working conditions or continuance of his or her employment would be adversely affected by non-acceptance. An employer cannot mandate the use of a payroll card.

• If an employee voluntarily chooses to accept the use of a payroll card for the payment of wages and/or final compensation, the employer must disclose in writing to the employee all fees, penalties, and costs associated with the use of the payroll card. The employee must be able to deposit and/or obtain the full monetary value on the payroll card without discount.

• If the employee chooses the payroll card as a method of payment, the employer is required to provide an itemized statement of all hours worked, rate of pay, and all lawful deductions made from the wages and/or final compensation for each pay period.

• An employee can revoke his or her authorization of the payroll card as a method of payment at any time, and the employer is obligated to provide to the employee another alternative method for the payment of wages and/or final compensation.

• An employer is not permitted to offer employees only the choice between two voluntary methods of payment. Because payment by either payroll card or direct deposit must be voluntary, an employer offering either or both of these payment methods must also provide an additional choice of payment by cash or check, in accordance with the IWPCA.

Despite the clear financial and practical benefits of using payroll cards for wages, employers must strictly comply with the specific requirements under the law which takes effect on January 1, 2015. As a new law, it is likely that the Illinois Department of Labor and Office of Attorney General will be watching closely.