Don’t Halt Compliance Efforts Just Because of Legal Challenges to the New Overtime Rule

On Sept. 20, 2016, Nevada and Texas led 21 states, including the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in filing a lawsuit to challenge the Department of Labor’s (DoL’s) new overtime rule changes set to go into effect Dec. 1 of this year. Right behind them, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Automobile Dealers Association, National Association of Wholesaler Distributors and other groups filed their own appeal.

justice-building

“The DoL went too far in the new overtime regulation,” said Randy Johnson, senior vice president of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits for the U.S. Chamber. “We’ve heard from our members, small businesses, nonprofits, and other employers that the salary threshold is going to result in significant new labor costs and cause many disruptions in how work gets done,” Johnson said in a press release. “Furthermore, the automatic escalator provision means that employers will have to go through their reclassification analysis every three years. In combination, the new overtime rule will result in salaried professional employees being converted to hourly wages, and it will reduce workplace flexibility, remote electronic access to work, and opportunities for career advancement.”

The  Chamber Suit

  • The Chamber suit charges that the rule departs from the intent established by Congress in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 78 years ago in that:
  • It sets an excessively high threshold for determining which positions qualify as executive, administrative, and professional.
  • The DoL “ignored regional and industry differences that have been previously acknowledged,” which results in a one-size-fits-none salary threshold.
  • The automatic triennial update “with no rulemaking or taking input from affected parties is not authorized by the Fair Labor Standards Act or any other relevant statute.”

The  States’ Suit

The states’ suit notes:

  • The new rule disregards the actual requirement of the FLSA by doubling the minimum salary threshold (from $23.660 to $47,476) that applies regardless whether an employee actually performs white-collar duties.
  • The best first indicator of white-collar exempt status is if a person in the exempt position actually performs white-collar work, not whether the salary meets the minimum.
  • The triennial salary increase based on the 40th percentile of the weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest wage Census region. The increase “not only evades the statutory command to delimit the exception from ‘time to time,’ as well as the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, it also ignores the DoL’s prior admissions [in President George W. Bush’s administration] that ‘nothing in the legislative or regulatory history…would support indexing or automatic increases.”

The new rule unconstitutionally requires states to pay overtime to state employees that are performing white-collar functions when the employees earn less than an amount to be determined by the executive branch of the federal government.

Lawsuits Can Fail

As heartening as these lawsuits may be to businesses, there is always the possibility that the lawsuits fail. Nearly since the rule was proposed, there have been experts who have predicted that the rule would be challenged in the courts.

But as Lawrence Mishel, Ph.D., economist and president of the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, Washington, D. C., think tank said in a recent interview by Society for Human Resource Management, “The DoL fulfilled all of their obligations during the rulemaking proceeding. They crossed every t and dotted every i. The final overtime pay rule update should be implemented as planned starting Dec. 1.”

With that in mind, don’t stop preparations for complying with the new overtime rule. The deadline for having everything in place will be here sooner rather than later.

Information provided by writer, Diane Faulkner, is not legal in nature. All reviews and opinions are submitted and based upon extensive research, experience in the human resources and labor relations fields and are not, in any way, legal opinions.

Don’t Halt Compliance Efforts Just Because of Legal Challenges to the New Overtime Rule

5 Steps to Prepare for New Overtime Exemptions Rule

It’s almost mid-year. Are you prepared for the impending changes to the overtime exemptions rule? This rule isn’t like the Affordable Care Act where the changes will be doled out over the course of a decade. No. Once the Department of Labor (DoL) makes its final ruling, you’ll likely have fewer than 90 days, if not fewer than 60 days, to comply. And, those days will be before the year’s end.

That means you need to start preparing now, if you haven’t already, because both your 2016 staffing and budget plans will be affected.

Even though the final rule hasn’t been handed down, there are things you can do to prepare, regardless the form the rules take:

1. Audit exempt employees’ work hours

The DoL has proposed to raise the minimum exempt employee salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476, so the first step you need to take is to calculate the number of hours current exempt employees work who make less than the new minimum. You can’t assume exempt employees all work 40 hours a week. Many work 45, 50, or more. Many take meetings or conduct job interviews after hours. Others are checking and responding to emails and voicemails after hours and on the weekends. Don’t allow yourself to be blindsided.

The next thing to consider is whether to give raises to those who are below, but very close to, the threshold and who are most likely to work overtime to avoid the overtime obligations.

Note: Non-discretionary bonuses may be allowed to be counted, and possibly commissions, toward 10 percent of workers’ salary levels. That may help to move a few of those near the line over the threshold without having to give them a raise. But, no one knows until the final rules are issued.

2. Assess effects on benefits

Do you have certain benefits for exempt employees that non-exempt ones don’t have? That’s a question you’ll want to address. Once re-classifications are instituted, many people may be losing benefits they may have been enjoying for years.

If that’s the case, should you change your benefits plans to allow those reclassified workers to keep their benefits, or do you want to eliminate those benefits to make up for any costs as a result of now paying those workers overtime?

3. Expand time-tracking systems

Any way you look at it, the non-exempt population is going to swell. That means you need to expand your time-tracking systems to ensure proper overtime pay. A visit with the tech department now will go a long way toward implementing a workable system to handle the new load later in the year.

4. Look at remote work arrangements

What do the impending rule changes mean for remote work: checking and responding to work email and voicemail, taking off-site meetings and calls after work, etc.

You can make all the rules you want to prohibit employees from engaging in these activities, but some of them are just going to do it. And, whether you agree to the overtime or not, whether or not you approve it, you still have to pay for the time spent doing it. And, when that happens, you need to ensure you have a way to track that time so you can correctly compensate them. That’s another reason to get with your IT people now rather than later. They  need time to come up with tracking mechanisms for after-hours and at-home work.

It’s interesting to note that in the Spring 2015 DoL Regulatory Agenda,  the DoL said it is seeking information on “… [T]he use of technology, including portable electronic devices, by employees away from the workplace and outside of scheduled work hours …”

This means there could be  some rule-making on this subject as well — like perhaps a definition of what qualifies as “de minimis” work.

Currently, the FLSA says “de minimis” work (typically five minutes or less) done beyond the 40-hour workweek by non-exempt employees is not compensable.

The common practice of workers reading and responding to emails off the clock on their smartphones, though, has complicated the issue of “de minimis” work.

5. Create a communication plan

Believe it or not, (the DoL doesn’t), being reclassified from exempt to non-exempt feels like a demotion.

If you don’t plan to raise some (or all) of your currently exempt workers’ salaries to the new minimum, you need to have some sort of communication plan in place. If you’re not going to raise some workers’ salaries and they’re about to be reclassified as non-exempt, you need a plan in place for how you’ll break the news to them.

Biggest issues to cover:

  • Punching a clock. More workers will be doing it, and it will look and feel like a demotion. How will you explain why it’s now necessary?
  • Loss of flexibility. Taking time off to go to the doctor or attend a child’s event could result in less pay for newly minted hourly workers. How will you break this news to them?  Will you let them make up the time? If so, will the other hourlies be allowed to make up time?

Bonus: Potential duties test changes

The DoL may eliminate the “concurrent duties” rule and require employees to spend more than 50% of their time exclusively on exempt duties for them to maintain an exempt classification.

Assume those changes will be adopted and you could avoid costly surprises down the road.

Information provided by writer, Diane Faulkner, is not legal in nature. All reviews and opinions are submitted and based upon extensive research, experience in the human resources and labor relations fields and are not, in any way, legal opinions.

5 Steps to Prepare for New Overtime Exemptions Rule

Pay Transparency and You: OFCCP Issues Final Rule

This month, the Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued its final rule on Executive Order 13665, otherwise known as pay transparency. The regulations will become effective January 11, 2016.

What Does This Mean?

With the Order in place, federal contractors will be prohibited from discriminating against employees, and even applicants, who enquire about or discuss compensation. The requirements will apply to all contractors and subcontracts covered by the non-discrimination and affirmative action provisions of Executive Order 11246. This includes contractors who are not required to develop written Affirmative Action Plans.

Who Qualifies as a Federal Contractor?

According to federal guidelines, an organization meets the “federal contractor” criteria if it:

– has a single federal contract, subcontract, or federally assisted construction; or
– has federal contracts or subcontracts that, combined, are worth more than $10,000 in    any 12-month period; or
– has government bills of lading; or
– serves as a depository of federal funds; or
– is an issuing and/or paying agency for U. S. Savings Bonds and notes in any amount.

The Final Rule will apply to contracts entered into or modified on or after January 11th of next year. (Contracts are considered “modified” if there is any alteration in their terms and conditions, including supplemental agreements and extensions).

What is Protected?

Under the new rule, employees cannot be disciplined for asking about or discussing their own or other employees’ pay and benefits. Applicants cannot be discriminated against for asking about or discussing employees’ compensation.

Equal Opportunity Clause Changes

The Equal Opportunity Clause has been revised to include the following language:

“The contractor will not discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because such employee or applicant has enquired about, discussed, or disclosed the compensation of the employee or applicant or applicant has enquired about, discussed, or disclosed the compensation of the employee or applicant or another employee or applicant . . .”

This non-discrimination provision does not apply if the employee has access to the employer’s compensation information as part of h/her job responsibilities.

Other revised language includes:

“This provision shall not apply to instances in which an employee who has access to the compensation information of other employees or applicants as part of such employee’s essential job functions discloses the compensation of such other employees or applicants to individuals who do not otherwise have access to such information, unless such disclosure is in response to a formal complaint or charge, in furtherance of an investigation, proceeding, hearing, or action, including an investigation conducted by the employer, or is consistent with the contractor’s legal duty to furnish information.”

Other Modifications

The OFCCP modified its proposed definition of “essential job functions” in a way that benefits contractors. Under the proposed definition, a contractor would have violated the provision if it had disciplined an employee who had authorized access to compensation information, but such access was not a “fundamental” part of the employee’s job responsibilities.

In response to concerns expressed by the contractor community, the Final Rule defines a job function as essential if:

– the access to compensation information is necessary in order to perform that function or another routinely assigned business task; or
– the function or duties of the position include protecting and maintaining the privacy of employee personnel records, including compensation information.

The Main Issue

The OFCCP recognized the main issue as whether an employee has authorized access to compensation information rather than the importance of that access in performing the job.

How is Compensation Defined?

Under this rule, compensation is defined as “any payments made to, or on behalf of, an employee or offered to an applicant as remuneration for employment, including, but not limited to, salary, wages, overtime pay, shift differentials, bonuses, commissions, vacation and holiday pay, allowances, insurance and other benefits, stock options and awards, profit sharing and retirement.”

Compensation information is defined as “the amount and type of compensation provided to employees or offered to applicants, including, but not limited to, the desire of the contractor to attract and retain a particular employee for the value the employee is perceived to add to the contractor’s profit or productivity, the availability of employees with like skills in the marketplace; market research about the worth of similar jobs in the relevant marketplace; job analysis, descriptions, and evaluations; salary and pay structures; salary surveys; labor union agreements; and contractor decisions, statements and policies related to setting or altering employee compensation.”

Can Contractors Defend Against Alleged Retaliation?

As long as the defense is not based on a policy that prohibits, or tends to prohibit, employees or applicants from discussing compensation, contractors do have a defense against claims alleging retaliation for discussing compensation. A contractor can take advantage of this defense by showing that it has consistently and uniformly disciplined similarly situated employees. Also, the “essential job functions defense,” which the OFCCP describes as a “complete defense,” provides protection to contractors who take adverse action against an employee who has access to compensation information and discloses the information to individuals who do not otherwise have access to it. The employee’s disclosure, however, would still be protected if it was “in response to a formal complaint or charge, in furtherance of an investigation, proceeding, hearing, or action, including an investigation conducted by the contractor, or is consistent with the contractor’s legal duty to furnish information.”

Must Contractors Provide Notice?

Contractor must use language prescribed by the OFCCP when notifying applicants and employee of their rights. This mandatory language must be included in existing employee handbooks or other manuals, and must be posted electronically or in conspicuous places. The OFCCP will also be updating the “EEO is the Law” poster to include this notice.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed attorney. My blogs are based on my own experiences, interviews (where credited), and loads of research, and do not represent legal advice.

Pay Transparency and You: OFCCP Issues Final Rule

DoL Updates Independent Contractor Classification

Say it with me: AI #2015-1. What is that, you ask? That’s the U. S. Department of Labor‘s (DoL) latest guidance on how to classify independent contractors (ICs). And if you’re a company who works with ICs, you’re not going to like this guidance any more than you liked the latest Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) update. This AI, or Administrator’s Interpretation, is a fuzzy one at best, and promises to cloud what had once been one of the most clear AIs. At worst, this AI promises to force some companies to reclassify some of their vendors from IC to EE (employee), and non-exempt EEs at that–meaning overtime-eligible.

As of July 15, 2015, the DoL narrowed the IC classification. As written, it looks as though more workers may be entitled to overtime and must be reclassified as employees. One portion of the AI is key, and that is the part that de-emphasizes the degree to which a business controls an individual’s work. Now, companies need to focus on the “economic realities test,” which reveals whether an individual is economically dependent on them or whether that person is truly in business for h/herself.

Classification Challenge

It’s no secret that many companies have mis-classified employees as ICs currently and in the past. This new guidance will at least force a re-evaluation of IC relationships so companies have an opportunity to get things straight. It will also force some new recordkeeping habits. For instance, now, at the beginning of a vendor relationship, business licenses should be shown, if not copied and kept in the vendor file, if vendors are to be paid on a 1099 basis.

The challenge for companies is the narrow focus on “economic dependence.” As written, the elements of the “economic realities test” seem understandable, but read carefully, you can see that there are no bright-line rules on which anyone can rely. The same person could be considered an IC or an EE simply based on the business at hand. The AI restricts the use of ICs to very few specific situations. No single factor listed in the AI can be relied on to tip the balance of classification one way or the other. As a result, executives (or even in-house counsels) will not always know what factor the DoL or a reviewing court will deem most important.

Economic Realities Test–Six Factors

The DoL has laid out six factors that need to be considered when conducting the economic realities test:

  1. The extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the company’s business.
  2. The vendor’s opportunity for profit or loss depending upon h/her managerial skills.
  3. The extent of the relative investments of the company and the vendor.
  4. Whether the work performed requires special skills and initiative.
  5. The permanency of the relationship.
  6. The degree of control exercised or retained by the company.

As guidance, the DoL writes, “In undertaking this analysis, each factor is examined and analyzed in relation to one another, and no single factor is determinative. The ‘control’ factor, for example, should not be given undue weight.”

“The factors should not be applied as a checklist,” the DoL continued, “but rather the outcome must be determined by a qualitative rather than a quantitative analysis.”

Qualitative rather than quantitative. What does that mean? It means you have to look at the task being performed and you have to ask yourself if what’s being performed is an employee function. Take, for example, a freelance carpenter who’s highly skilled. Say she has been contracted by a construction firm, but the carpenter does not independently exercise her skills. She doesn’t determine the sequence of work or order materials or think about bidding for the next job; rather, she is told what work to perform, where, and in what sequence. This carpenter, though highly skilled, is merely performing skilled labor. She isn’t thinking independently, and she’s not demonstrating the skill and initiative of an IC  (e.g. managerial or business skills). As such, she is an employee (and a non-exempt one at that).

In contrast, the DoL notes that “a highly skilled carpenter who provides a specialized service for a variety of construction companies (for example, custom, hand-crafted cabinets that are made-to-order) may be demonstrating the skill and initiative of an IC if the carpenter markets her services, determines when to order materials and the quantity of materials to order, and determines which orders to fill.”

Monitor Classifications

So, who should be responsible for monitoring the IC classifications? Human Resources? Finance? Executive secretary? Someone is going to have to own this issue. Moving forward, the DoL expects companies to make clear which department is responsible to understand the law, know which contractors have been engaged, and monitor compliance. Companies will have to maintain basic records based on the IC determination process, and the facts used to make the determination should be clear.

What should be kept on record? Copies of business licenses, business cards, tax records (1099s, not their filings), project work plans showing limited engagements, and correspondence from the contractor.

Key Points

  • The DoL believes most work should be performed by employees and IC should be used sparingly.
  • Entering into IC agreements or hiring a business entity (rather than a person) does not necessarily protect you from liability under the FLSA.
  • Before engaging the services of any non-employee, carefully review the type and scope of work to be performed.
  • When entering into agreements with other service providers, ensure that you obtain appropriate indemnification provisions to protect your company from wage-and-hour claims of service provider’s workers.

Other things to consider:

  • Avoid giving contractors rights or access that cut against contractor determination, e.g. internal e-mail accounts, server access, invitations to employee functions.
  • Periodically audit existing contractors to ensure they have not inadvertently become employees. (If an otherwise valid contractor arrangement becomes economically dependent on the work, then the relationship may convert to an employee entitled to overtime).

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed attorney. My blogs are based on my own experiences, interviews (where credited), and loads of research, and do not represent legal advice.

DoL Updates Independent Contractor Classification

Proposed Changes to FLSA (a.k.a. Fair Labor Standards Act or Wage & Hour)

The U. S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division finally released its 295-page long Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) that proposes changes to the executive, professional, highly-compensated, and administrative employee exemptions from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime requirements. The release, which was posted June 30, 2015, was accompanied by a Fact Sheet and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list.

Employers should be aware of the following key sections:

SALARY TEST CHANGES

There are basically two changes that stand out. One is the weekly salary that must be paid for an employee to qualify for the executive, professional, or administrative exemptions from the FLSA overtime rule. The other is the annual compensation that must be paid for an employee to qualify for the highly-compensated exemption.

Since the last update in 2004, the current salary threshold for the executive, professional, and administrative exemptions is $455 a week, which translates into $23,660 a year. The proposed minimum weekly salary is set at the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for all full-time salaried employees. Since the Final Rule is expected to be issued in 2016, the projected new figure is $970 a week ($50,440 a year). Yes, that’s more than double the current threshold.

The effect? A dramatically increased number of salaried employees will qualify for overtime pay. In fact, in his editorial about the proposed rule, President Obama noted that approximately five million employees in the United States will qualify for overtime pay if the proposed rule is adopted.

The surprise in the NPR is the proposal to automatically increase the minimum weekly salary requirement each year based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This marks the first time since FLSA was passed in 1938 that such a requirement has been suggested. How to index the figures has not yet been chosen. Two different indexing methods have been studied and the Department is soliciting comments on the process.

Similarly, the Department has proposed to increase the minimum annual compensation for the highly-compensated employee exemption. Currently, the figure is $100,00. The proposed figure is, in 2016 dollars, $122,148.  This figure, too, is proposed to be increased annually based on the same index that would apply to the weekly salary requirement.

NO DUTIES TEST CHANGES

Though Duties Test changes were predicted for the executive, professional, and administrative exemptions, even adoption of a California-style requirement that 50 percent of an exempt employee’s time each week be devoted to performing exempt tasks, no changes are forthcoming. Rather, the Department is soliciting comments about the respective Duties Tests. No specific regulatory changes have been proposed at this time.

What will the Department do regarding the Duties Tests? There are two trains of thought: by not proposing changes, commentators believe the Department may have foreclosed its ability to make regulatory changes without further notice and comment; and, the solicitation for comments may indicate that the Department is considering issuing a second round of proposed amendments and opening up a second comment period at a more opportune time.


GOING FORWARD

In the next few days, the NPR is expected to be formally published in the Federal Register, and President Obama is scheduled to publicly comment on July 1st. The Federal Register will provide the timeframe during which written comments will be accepted, which should be at least 60 days. Comments may be submitted at regulations.gov.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed attorney. My blogs are based on my own experiences, interviews (where credited), and loads of research, and do not represent legal advice.

Proposed Changes to FLSA (a.k.a. Fair Labor Standards Act or Wage & Hour)

15 Employment and Labor Resolutions for 2015, part 2 of 3

In the second part of the series of resolutions everyone should make to keep their human resource department running smoothly — and legally, we have five more entries:

 6. Audit your wage-hour compliance. Unintentional overtime and wage-hour law violations have a new name in many quarters: “wage theft.” Federal and state agencies and plaintiff’s lawyers, sometimes encouraged by labor unions and their affiliate groups, are saying “show me the money” and finding it. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor has said that it will attempt to narrow the white-collar exemptions this year. (Although the DOL says the changes will not be drastic, they are expected to be drastic). Among other things, a good wage-hour audit will include ensuring that lower-wage employees are getting at least the applicable minimum wage; that employees are not being required or “pressured” to work off the clock, or “winked at” when they do so; that the employees classified as “exempt” really are; and that any “independent contractors” really are (see also Resolution No. 1). Be sure that the review includes compliance with applicable state and local minimum wage laws, too. Many states now have a higher minimum wage than the Fair Labor Standards Act rate.

7. Update your EEO/no-harassment policies, and get that training done! In just the past year, the EEOC has taken the position that pregnancy and related conditions (including lactation) must be reasonably accommodated. The EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which enforces the affirmative action laws that apply to federal contractors, both agree that “gender identity” is a protected category and that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity violates Title VII. Do your policies reflect this? Do your employees know the new rules? Do victims of harassment and discrimination know that they have recourse?

8. Review your use of criminal background and credit information in hiring decisions. Many state and local laws prohibit employers from asking about criminal history on employment applications, and the EEOC has taken an aggressive position on the use of criminal or credit information in making employment decisions. You can still get this information, but are you getting it properly? If you find that an individual has a criminal or credit problem, are you making the required “individualized analysis” that takes into account, among other things, the nature of the conviction, the years that have passed, and the particular position for which the individual is applying? Did you grab some “canned” rules from a website, or are your rules customized to fit your industry, your workforce, and the people you serve?

9. If you’re a federal contractor, make sure you are up to date on all of the OFCCP’s new requirements. For example, the new requirement that you prohibit discrimination or harassment based on gender identity. The new minimum wage (applicable to some, but not all, federal contractors). The new scheduling letter and itemized listing. The proposed rule prohibiting employers from requiring that employees avoid discussing their pay. The rule requiring employers to “air their dirty linen” by disclosing certain violations of federal labor and employment laws. The new rule on disability discrimination/accommodation and veterans. (“Perform compensation analysis” is another good resolution if you haven’t done one lately).

10. Make sure you’re in compliance with the new injury and illness reporting requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which took effect on January 1. (Reported on this new rule back in September).

 Check back next week for the last installment of the 15 resolutions.

Disclaimer I am not a licensed attorney. My blogs are based on my own experiences, interviews (where credited), and loads of research and do not represent legal advice.

15 Employment and Labor Resolutions for 2015, part 2 of 3