Joining California and New York, New Jersey has become the third state with a phased-in $15 minimum wage requirement for most employees. On February 4, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law A15 (“Law”), which raises the state minimum wage rate for employers with six or more employees to $10.00 per hour on July 1, 2019, and then to $11.00 per hour on January 1, 2020. Thereafter, the minimum wage will increase annually on January 1 by $1.00 per hour until it reaches $15.00 per hour on January 1, 2024. The minimum wage hike will phase in at a slower rate for employers with five or fewer employees and for “seasonal employers” (defined below). Thus, the current minimum wage of $8.85 per hour will increase as follows: ­­

Date of Increase in Minimum Wage Rate

Minimum Wage Rate for Employers with 6 or More Employees

Minimum Wage Rate for “Small Employers” (those with 5 or fewer employees) and Seasonal Employers

July 1, 2019

$10.00 $8.85 (no change)

January 1, 2020

$11.00 $10.30

January 1, 2021

$12.00 $11.10

January 1, 2022

$13.00 $11.90
January 1, 2023 $14.00

$12.70

January 1, 2024 $15.00

$13.50

January 1, 2025 $15.00 + inflation adjusted*

$14.30

January 1, 2026 $15.00 + inflation adjusted*

$15.00**

*As a result of a state constitutional amendment passed in 2013, the minimum wage rate after 2024 will increase for this group based on the inflation rate at the time (and the federal minimum wage rate, if higher).

** The Law provides for further annual inflation adjustments to the minimum wage after 2026 for seasonal workers and employees of small employers so that by January 1, 2028, workers in those groups will receive the same minimum wage as employees of larger employers.  …         

Read the full Advisory online.

On February 1, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor publicly designated Keith Sonderling as Acting Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”).  He joined WHD in September 2017 as a Senior Policy Advisor, receiving a promotion to Deputy Administrator last month.  Before joining the Department, he was a shareholder in the Gunster law firm in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he represented businesses in labor and employment matters.

During his time with WHD, Sonderling has been a strong proponent of the agency’s Payroll Audit Independent Determination program (known as “PAID”), which under certain circumstances allows employers to self-report violations to WHD and to make the workers whole in exchange for a release.  He has also led numerous public listening sessions for stakeholders to express their views about the forthcoming revisions to the regulations implementing the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions to the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”).

Sonderling steps into the role vacated last month by Bryan Jarrett, who led WHD since October 2017.  President Trump nominated Cheryl Stanton to serve as Administrator of WHD in September 2017, and she continues to wait for a confirmation vote in the Senate.

WHD enforces the minimum wage, overtime, and child labor provisions of the FLSA, as well as the Family & Medical Leave Act and several prevailing wage statutes applicable to federal government contracts, among other laws.

On January 17, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and legislative leaders announced an agreement to raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. Under the agreement, and presuming enactment, effective July 1, 2019, the state’s minimum wage for most workers will increase from $8.85 to $10 an hour; thereafter, it will increase $1 an hour every January 1 until reaching $15 on January 1, 2024.

For seasonal workers and employees of small businesses (i.e., five or fewer workers), the ramp-up to $15 an hour would extend to 2026. For farmworkers, the base minimum wage would increase incrementally to $12.50 by January 1, 2024. Then, a special committee would review to determine whether to raise the farmworkers’ minimum wage to $15 an hour. …

Read the full Advisory online.

True to its promise last year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (the “WHD”) continues to issue a steady stream of opinion letters designed to offer practical guidance to employers on specific wage and hour issues solicited by employers. This past week, the WHD issued two new opinion letters concerning the Fair Labor and Standards Act (“FLSA”), where one addresses an employer’s hourly pay methodology vis-à-vis the FLSA’s minimum wage requirement, and the other the ministerial exception to the FLSA. While not universally applicable, employers should consider the general principles set forth in these opinion letters, and then further research the underlying relevant regulations and the DOL’s interpretive guidance to more fully understand the basic requirements to ensure legal compliance.

Varying Average Hourly Rate:

In Opinion Letter FLSA2018-28, the WHD examined a compensation plan in which a home-health aide employer paid employee aides on an hourly basis for each of their client appointments. While the employer did not specifically pay aides for their travel time between client locations, the hourly rate they received for the client appointments was sufficiently large enough when averaged among all hours worked, including travel time, to satisfy the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA. Specifically, the employer multiplied each employee’s time with clients by his or her hourly pay rate (typically $10 per hour) and then divided the product by the employee’s total hours worked (which includes both the client time and the travel time). Employees who work over 40 hours (including travel time) in any given workweek are paid time and one-half for all time over 40 hours based on a regular rate of $10.00.

Based on these facts, the WHD concluded that this payment scheme complies with the FLSA’s minimum wage requirements, reaffirming the principle that an employee’s average hourly rate can vary from workweek to workweek as long as it exceeds the FLSA’s minimum wage requirements for all hours worked. On the issue of overtime pay, however, the WHD cautioned that the employer’s compensation plan may not comply with the FLSA because the employer assumed a regular rate of $10 when, in fact, certain of its employees have actual regular rates of pay greater than $10. In other words, the regular rate cannot be arbitrarily selected; it must be based on an actual “mathematical computation.”

Ministerial Exception:

In Opinion Letter FLSA2018-29, the WHD advised that members of a Christian cooperative who share all personal property and funds and work for the organization, either in the schools, kitchens, or laundries or for two onsite non-profits that generate income for the organization, are not “employees” under the FLSA. As a preliminary matter, the WHD emphasized that the members of the cooperative do not expect to receive compensation for their services, which is the hallmark of an employment relationship.   The WHD further reasoned that the organization’s members are similar to nuns, priests, and other members of a religious order who work for church-affiliated entities, who typically fall within the FLSA’s ministerial exception. The WHD reasoned that like priests and nuns, the members of the religious cooperative share resources, gather for communal meals and worship, and provide for their own education, healthcare, and other necessities. In light of these similarities and the absence of any expectation of compensation, the WHD determined that the members of the cooperative were not employees for purposes of the FLSA.

The Opinion Letter further noted that the fact that some members work for non-profit, income-generating ventures did not alter the WHD’s conclusion. Relying on U.S. Supreme Court precedent exempting religious activities from the FLSA’s reach, the WHD explained that the members consider the work indivisible from prayer and reiterated that individuals can work for entities covered by the FLSA without being deemed employees under the FLSA.

In recent years, a growing number of states and localities have enacted unique minimum wage laws and ordinances entitling employees to be paid more – in some cases, substantially more – than the federal minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 for nearly a decade.

As these minimum wages become more particularized, multi-jurisdictional employers face an increasing challenge to maintain compliance.

Below is an overview of notable increases slated to take effect on January 1, 2019, unless otherwise noted.

Please note that, at this late date, the 2019 minimum wage remains the subject of debate in several jurisdictions, including Michigan, where the modification of a bill in December 2018 has stirred controversy as it awaits executive signature.

Minimum Wage Hikes Applicable in the States and Territories

   

Current

New

State

Categories
(if any)
Minimum Wage Tipped Minimum Wage Minimum Wage

Tipped Minimum Wage

Alaska $9.84 $9.89
Arizona $10.50 $7.50 $11.00 $8.00
Arkansas $8.50 $9.25
California 26 or more employees $11.00 $12.00
25 or fewer employees $10.50 $11.00
Colorado $10.20 $7.18 $11.10 $8.08
Delaware $8.25 $8.75
District of Columbia $13.25 $14.00
Florida $8.25 $5.23 $8.46 $5.44
Maine $10.00 $5.00 $11.00 $5.50
Massachusetts $11.00 $3.75 $12.00 $4.35
Minnesota Large employer (annual gross revenue of $500,000 or more) $9.65 $9.86
Large employer 90-day training wage $7.87 $8.04
Large employer youth wage (under 18 years of age) $7.87 $8.04
Small employer (annual gross revenue of less than $500,000) $7.87 $8.04
Missouri $7.85 $3.93 $8.60 $4.30
Montana $8.30 $8.50
New Jersey $8.60 $8.85
New York (effective December 31, 2018)* $10.40 $7.85 (when tips are $2.55 or more)

$8.85 (when tips are at least $1.55, but less than $2.55)

11.10 $8.40 (when tips are $2.70 or more)

$9.45 (when tips are at least $1.65 but less than $2.70)

Ohio** Employers with gross revenues equal to or exceeding $314,000 (previously $305,000) $8.30 $4.15 $8.55 $4.30
Employers with gross revenues less than $314,000 (previously $305,000) $4.15 $4.30
Rhode Island $10.10 $10.50
South Dakota $8.85 $4.43 $9.10 $4.55
Vermont $10.50 $5.25 $10.78 $5.39
Washington $11.50 $11.50 $12.00 $12.00

* The minimum wages identified herein with respect to New York State and its localities are the general minimum wages. Different rules apply to certain categories of employees within certain regions and industries, including hospitality and building services.   Employers in New York State should take extra care to consult the state or local rules that may apply within their industries.

** Employees under the age of 16 may be paid no less than the federal minimum wage.

Localized Minimum Wage Hikes

Current New
Locality Categories
(if any)
Minimum Wage Tipped Minimum Wage Minimum Wage

Tipped Minimum Wage

Arizona          
Flagstaff, AZ $11.00 $12.00
California          
Belmont, CA $12.50 $13.50
Cupertino, CA $13.50 $15.00  
El Cerrito, CA $13.60 $15.00  
Los Altos, CA $13.50 $15.00  
Mountain View, CA $15.00 $15.65  
Oakland, CA $13.23 $13.80  
Palo Alto, CA $13.50 $15.00  
Redwood City, CA N/A $13.50  
Richmond, CA+ Without specified medical benefits $13.41 $15.00  
With specified medical benefits $11.91 $13.50  
San Diego, CA $11.50 $12.00  
San Jose, CA $13.50 $15.00  
San Mateo, CA 501(c)(3) non-profit $12.00 $13.50  
Other businesses $13.50 $15.00  
Santa Clara, CA $13.00 $15.00  
Sunnyvale, CA $15.00 $15.65  
New Mexico          
Albuquerque, NM++ Specified benefits not provided $8.95 $5.35 $9.20 $5.50
Specified benefits provided $7.95 $5.35 $8.20 $5.50
Bernalillo County, NM $8.85 $9.05
Las Cruces, NM $9.20 $3.68 $10.10 $4.04
New York

(effective December 31, 2018)

NYC more than 10 employees $13.00 $9.80 (when tips are $3.20 or more)

$11.05 (when tips are at least $1.95, but less than $3.20)

$15.00 $11.35 (when tips are $3.65 or more)

$12.75 (when tips are at least $2.25, but less than $3.65)

NYC 10 or fewer employees $12.00 $9.05 (when tips are $2.95 or more)

$10.20 (when tips are at least $1.80, but less than $2.95)

$13.50 $10.30 (when tips are $3.30 or more)

$11.45 (when tips are at least $2.05, but less than $3.30)

Nassau, Suffolk, & Westchester Counties, NY $11.00 $8.30 (when tips are more than $2.70)

$9.35 (when tips are at least $1.65, but less than $2.70)

$12.00 $9.05 (when tips are more than $2.95)

$10.20 (when tips are at least $1.80, but less than $2.95)

Washington          
Seattle, WA+++ Small employer (500 or fewer employees) $14.00

(or $11.50, with difference made up in tips or benefits)

$15.00

(or $12.00, with difference made up in tips or benefits)

 
Large employer (501 or more employees) – with medical benefits $15.45

(or $15.00, with difference made up in benefits)

$16.00  
SeaTac, WA Hospitality and transportation employees $15.64 $16.09  
Tacoma, WA $12.00 $12.35  

+ An employer may pay employees $1.50 less than the minimum hourly wage provided that the employer pays at least $1.50 per hour, per employee, towards an employee medical benefits plan that allows employees to receive employer-compensated care from a licensed physician.

++ Employers may offer a lower minimum wage if they provide the employee with healthcare and/or childcare benefits equal to or greater than an annualized cost of $2,500.00.

+++ In 2019, the two-tier system in which employees that offer certain benefits may offer a lower minimum wage will no longer apply to large employers.

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.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), employers can satisfy their minimum wage obligations to tipped employees by paying them a tipped wage of as low as $2.13 per hour, so long as the employees earn enough in tips to make up the difference between the tipped wage and the full minimum wage. (Other conditions apply that are not important here.) Back in 1988, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division amended its Field Operations Handbook, the agency’s internal guidance manual for investigators, to include a new requirement the agency sought to apply to restaurants. Under that then-new guidance, when tipped employees spend more than 20% of their working time on tasks that do not specifically generate tips—tasks such as wiping down tables, filling salt and pepper shakers, and rolling silverware into napkins, duties generally referred to in the industry as “side work”—the employer must pay full minimum wage, rather than the lesser tipped wage, for the side work.

This provision of the Handbook flew largely under the radar for years. This was partly because the Department did not publicize the contents of the Handbook, and party because the Department did not bring enforcement actions premised on a violation of this 20% standard. And historically, virtually nobody in the restaurant industry maintained records specifically segregating hours and minutes spent on tip-generating tasks as compared to side work.

In 2007, a federal district court in Missouri issued a ruling in a class action upholding the validity of the 20% standard, and that decision received an enormous amount of attention and publicity. In the years that followed, a wave of class actions against restaurants flooded the courts across the country, all contending that the restaurants owe the tipped employees extra money because of the Department’s 20% standard in the Handbook.

In January of 2009, in the waning days of the George W. Bush Administration, the Department issued an opinion letter rejecting the 20% standard, superseding the Handbook provision, and stating that there is no limit on the amount of time a tipped employee can spend on side work. Six weeks later, however, in March of 2009, the Obama Administration withdrew that opinion letter. In subsequent years, the Department filed several amicus curiae briefs in pending court cases endorsing the 20% standard, and the Department even modified the Handbook provision to make the requirements even more difficult for employers to satisfy.

In late 2017, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded, in nine consolidated appeals presenting the same issue, that the Department’s 20% standard is not consistent with the FLSA and thus was unlawful. A few months later, however, a divided 11-judge en banc panel of the same court reached the opposite conclusion, ruling by an 8-3 vote that the 20% standard is worthy of deference.

In July of 2018, the Restaurant Law Center, represented by Epstein Becker Green, filed a declaratory judgment action against the Department in federal court in Texas challenging the validity of the 20% standard under the FLSA, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the U.S. Constitution. Roughly a month before the employers’ deadline to file a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court regarding the en banc Ninth Circuit ruling, and just days before the government’s response is due in the Texas litigation, the Department reissued the 2009 opinion letter.

This opinion letter, now designated as FLSA2018-27, once again rejects the 20% standard and clarifies that employers may pay a tipped wage when employees engage in side work so long as the side work occurs contemporaneously with, or in close proximity to, the employees’ normal tip-generating activity. This opinion letter should put an end to the many pending cases, including numerous class actions, that depend on the 20% standard.

The overall take-away for employers is that at least under federal law, side work performed during an employee’s shift, in between tip-generating tasks, should present no concern. The same should be true of side work performed at the start or end of an employee’s shift, so long as the side work does not take too long. An employee coming in fifteen or thirty minutes before the restaurant is open to help get the restaurant ready for the day, followed by the remainder of the shift in which the employee generates tips, seems to be consistent with the new opinion letter. Likewise for employees who spend some time at the end of the shift helping to close the restaurant for the day. But employers should use common sense and good judgment, as having tipped employees spend hours and hours performing side work may still give rise to risks. And it remains important to be aware of any state or local law requirements that may differ from federal law.

Joining several other federal appellate courts including the Fourth and Ninth Circuits , on October 22, 2018 the Seventh Circuit concluded in Herrington v. Waterstone Mortgage Corporation, No. 17-3609 (7th Cir. Oct. 22, 2018) that the arbitrability of a class claim is one for the court to decide, not the arbitrator. In so doing, the court placed in jeopardy a $10 million arbitration award in a wage-hour case.

Herrington originally filed suit against Waterstone, alleging that Waterstone failed to pay her and other employees minimum wages and overtime pay in violation of  the FLSA. Waterstone moved to enforce an agreement to arbitrate that stated the “arbitration may not be joined with . . . any claims by any person not party to this Agreement.” Despite that language, the district court sent the parties to arbitration, instructing the arbitrator to allow other employees to join the case.

In a collective arbitration , the arbitrator awarded more than $10 million in damages.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Sys. Corp. v. Lewis, ___ U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018), the Seventh Circuit concluded that the waiver of class claims was enforceable. One question not addressed by Epic, however, was whether the court or the arbitrator should make this determination.

Because the availability of a class or collective action is a “gateway matter,” the Seventh Circuit concluded it is a question of arbitrability for the court to decide, not the arbitrator. The fundamental question was whether the employees had agreed to arbitrate — and whether Waterstone also agreed. The Court noted  that in agreeing to arbitration, an employer essentially waives appellate review—which could result in a large arbitration award with little or no opportunity for review.

In view of Herrington, two issues now seem settled in the Seventh and several other circuits. First, agreements mandating individual arbitration of wage-hour claims are enforceable. Second, it is for the court to interpret the arbitration agreement to determine whether it permits class claims, not the arbitrator .

The question whether an individual may be held liable for alleged wage-hour violations is one that occasionally arises in class action litigation – and, for obvious reasons, it is one that is particularly important to individuals who own entities or who are responsible for overseeing wage-hour compliance.

In Atempa v. Pedrazzani, the California Court of Appeal held that persons responsible for overtime and/or minimum wage violations in fact can be held personally liable for civil penalties, regardless of whether they were the employer or the employer is a limited liability entity. And the Court concluded that private plaintiffs may pursue and collect these penalties for “aggrieved employees” on behalf of the state of California through the Private Attorneys’ General Act (“PAGA”).

Defendant Paolo Pedrazzani was the owner, president, director, and secretary of Pama, Inc.. Two former employees filed a variety of wage-hour claims against Pedrazzani and Pama in July 2013, including claims for civil penalties on the basis of unpaid minimum wages (Cal. Lab. Code 1197.1) and unpaid overtime (Cal. Lab. Code 558). Following a judgment in favor of the employees that Pedrazzani and Pama were jointly and severally liable for the civil penalties, Pedrazzani appealed and Pama filed for bankruptcy.

The Court of Appeal held that Pedrazzani was personally liable for the civil penalties because “the Legislature has decided that both the employer and any ‘other person’ who causes a violation of the overtime pay or minimum wage laws are subject to specified civil penalties.” (italics original). And because neither statute mentions corporate structure, corporate form, or suggests that the same has any bearing on liability, it concluded that “the business structure of the employer is irrelevant.”

The Court also held that personal liability can attach even if a person has no formal relationship with the corporate employer (e.g., employee, manager, officer). Rather, for overtime violations, it is sufficient that that the “other person” was “acting on behalf of the employer”; and for minimum wage violations, it is sufficient that the “other person” “pays or causes to be paid less than the prescribed minimum wage.” Summarizing, the Court held that the statutes at issue “provide for an award of civil penalties against the person who committed the underlying statutory violations.”

After establishing the basis for Pedrazzani’s personal liability, the Court went onto explain that the former employees had standing to seek and collect the penalties under PAGA, and that such penalties are subject to the standard division between the aggrieved employees and the State (25% to the former; 75% to the latter).

Unfortunately, the Court did not address the standard or evidentiary showing needed to establish that someone is an “other person” who can be held personally liable for the civil penalties.

Changes to the white collar exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) are coming slowly.  Very, very slowly.  Back in May 2016, under the Obama Administration, the Department of Labor issued a Final Rule updating the regulations for the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime executive, administrative, and professional exemptions.  That rule would, among other things, have increased the minimum salary required for most employees within these exemptions from $455 a week ($23,660 a year) to $913 a week ($47,476 a year).  In November 2016, a federal judge in Texas enjoined that regulation just nine days before it was to go into effect.

In July 2017, the Department issued a Request for Information seeking public comment on a whole series of questions relating to whether and how the Department should update the existing regulations, which have been on the books since 2004.  Those questions include such topics as whether and how to revise the salary threshold, whether to differentiate salary levels based on geographic or other criteria, and whether to even have a salary requirement at all.

The Department’s semi-annual regulatory agenda indicates that the current plan is to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding these exemption regulations in or about January 2019.  That date has slipped before, and it may well slip again.

Apparently feeling that it does not yet have sufficient information to be able to make an informed decision about what it should say in the proposed regulations—notwithstanding the more than 214,000 comments received to date in response to the 2017 Request—the Department has announced a series of five “listening sessions” to be held in September in Atlanta, Seattle, Kansas City, Denver, and Providence.  According to the Department’s press release, “[t]he Department plans to update the Overtime Rule, and it is interested in hearing the views of participants on possible revisions to the regulations.”

Employers interested in letting their views be known to the Department in connection with this rulemaking are may register for one or more of these two-hour sessions.  There is no charge to attend, but the Department requires registration.  Given the nature of this type of gathering, it seems unlikely that the Department will provide any insights into where the rulemaking may be headed.  Instead, the purpose seems to be for the public to express its views and for the Department to take note of those views.

If you are interested in attending, please click here for the Department’s registration link.