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.

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

Supreme Court Frees up Federal Agencies’ Rights to Reinterpret Regulations at Will

In case you haven’t heard, the U. S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld federal agencies’ rights to not have to go through formal rule-making to make changes to rules that interpret regulations. On March 9, 2015, the high court concluded that the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL) acted properly in issuing an “administrator interpretation” that reclassifies mortgage loan officers as overtime-eligible under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (Perez vs. Mortgage Bankers Association, No. 13-1041).

Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion that was backed by Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas who each wrote supporting opinions. In short, Justice Sotomayor concluded that the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s Circuit’s decision in Paralyzed Veterans of America vs. D. C. Arena, 117 F.3d 579 (D. C. Cir. 1997), which states that an agency cannot significantly modify a previously issue definitive interpretation of a rule without public notice and comment is “contrary to the clear text of the” rule-making provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

What Does This Mean?

With this ruling, agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board, Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Labor will be given a wide berth to formally proclaim and put into action rules outside the normal agency rule-making procedures of notice, rebuttal time, and comment considerations from constituent groups. John Meyers, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Atlanta, told Society for Human Resource Management’s SHRM Online that, “We can expect the current administration to use this ruling to back up its authority to pass new or change existing precedents.”

Attorney Tammy McCutchen with Littler in Washington, D. C., and was the DOL Wage & Hour Division Administrator from 2001-2004 said she was not surprised by the decision, that it was a pretty straightforward statutory interpretation. The ruling “should give the DOL the confidence to issue more interpretations of its own regulations through administrator interpretations.”

The Changes in Overtime Eligibility

In 1999 and 2001, the DOL issued interpretive opinions that mortgage loan officers did not fall under the FLSA overtime pay requirement. In 2006, however, a new interpretive rule said those officers were exempt, and employers did not have to pay them overtime.

In 2010, the rule changed again, when the DOL issued an interpretive rule stating that the 2006 rule adopted an incorrect interpretation of a 2004 regulation that what jobs qualified for exemptions from the overtime rule. Once again, mortgage loan officers qualified for overtime pay.

The Mortgage Bankers Association sued with the argument that the department violated the APA by failing to provide public notice and an opportunity to comment on the 2010 interpretive rule before issuance. The District Court agreed with the government’s argument that the plain text of the APA exempts agency interpretive rules from notice and comment rule-making.

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit reversed the ruling, relying on Paralyzed Veterans decision.

The High Court agreed to hear the case on June 16, 2014, with oral arguments on December 1st.

Opinions Most Interesting

McCutchen said the “most interesting” part of the decisions was the concurring decisions by Alito, Scalia, and Thomas. They agree that the D. C. Circuit Court cannot create procedural hurdles to an executive agency changing interpretations of their regulations by requiring notice and comment rule-making when these requirements to not exist in the APA.

“They also recognize the problem of unchecked executive agencies issuing interpretations of their own regulations–without notice to the public, but which really do bind the public–and to which courts must defer under prior Supreme Court precedent.”

“The concurring justices seem sympathetic to the evil the D. C. Circuit was trying to address, although they agree the D. C. Circuit’s approach was not consistent with the APA.”

“Instead,” McCutchen said, “The three justices suggest that the court should reconsider prior cases requiring deference to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.”

In the words of Justice Scalia, “I would, therefore, restore the balance originally struck by the APA with respect with an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations…The agency is free to interpret its own regulations with or without notice and comment; but courts will decide–with no deference to the agency–whether that interpretation is correct.

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. 

Supreme Court Frees up Federal Agencies’ Rights to Reinterpret Regulations at Will