The Top 6 Highlights from the DOL’s New Overtime Pay Regulations

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After receiving and reviewing over 270,000 public comments, on May 18, 2016 the U.S. Department of Labor (“the DOL”) released its much anticipated Final Rule regarding overtime pay eligibility for certain “white collar workers” under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

The changes are dramatic – the DOL estimates some 4.1 million workers will become eligible for overtime pay, and another 100,000 will receive salary increases to meet the new minimum salary threshold.  Under the FLSA, non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay of 1.5 times an employee’s “regular rate of pay” for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

Below are the notable highlights of the Final Rule:

1. A Doubling of the Minimum Salary Threshold. The Final Rule for the Executive, Administrative, and Professional (“EAP”) Exemptions raises the minimum salary level from its current level of $455 per week ($23,660 annualized) to $913 per week ($47,476 annualized) in 2016. This new threshold represents the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the “lowest wage Census region” (currently the South)

2. A 34% Increase to the Minimum Salary Necessary for the Highly Compensated Employee Exemption. The Final Rule raises the total annual compensation required to qualify for the Highly-Compensated Employee (“HCE”) exemption from $100,000 to $134,004 annually. This threshold represents the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally. Employers can still make one catch-up payment to satisfy the new HCE salary threshold “during the last pay period or within one month after the end of the 52 week period.

3. Automatic Updating of Salary Thresholds Every 3 Years. The DOL’s Final Rule will automatically update the salary threshold every three years beginning January 1, 2020. Each salary update will raise the minimum threshold to the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the lowest wage Census region (currently the South). That threshold is estimated to rise to $51,168 in 2020. The HCE threshold will also automatically update to the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally, and is estimated to rise to $147,524 on January 1, 2020. The Final Rule requires the DOL to post the new salary levels 150 days in advance of their effective date, (i.e. on or about August 1, 2019)

4. Non-Salary Compensation and Catch-Up Payments can be Utilized to Meet the Salary Threshold. The Final Rule gives employers some flexibility by allowing them to include non-discretionary bonuses, incentive pay, and/or commissions to meet the new EAP salary threshold. However, in order to be included these payments must be made on at least a quarterly basis, and cannot exceed more than 10% of the required salary threshold. The Final Rule also permits employers to make a catch-up payment not exceeding the 10% limit once per quarter to meet the EAP salary threshold

5. No Changes to the “Duties Tests.” In order to classify an employee as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime pay requirements, an employer must establish that the employee satisfies both the minimum salary threshold and the “duties test” for the particular exemption. Each exemption has its own set of duties that an employee must perform. In its proposed rules the DOL had solicited public comment on whether to change any of the “duties tests” for the EAP Exemptions, but in the end made no changes. Of course, employers must still make sure that their exempt employees satisfy the current duties tests of the exemptions they rely on.

6. Effective Date of December 1, 2016. In somewhat of a surprise, the DOL has given employers over six months to come into compliance with the Final Rule – the new salary thresholds will go into effect on December 1, 2016. Employers were concerned that the DOL would give them as little as 60 days to come into compliance. Given the significance of the changes, however, this slightly lengthier implementation period is justified.

The $50,440 Question: When Will the New FLSA Overtime Regulations Become Final?

As most every U.S. based employer and “HR Genius” knows by now, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has proposed major increases to the minimum salary level necessary for certain “white collar” employees to be deemed “exempt” from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) overtime pay requirements.  The DOL proposal more than doubled the current minimum  salary level  to $50,440 annually.

Despite this dramatic increase, and perhaps hoping to avoid an avalanche of “feedback,” the DOL gave the public a mere 60 days to file written comments.   Like a roomful of annoying moviegoers, however, the public spoke loudly and often, burying the DOL with almost 270,000 comments by early September of 2015.

This, of course, begs the question – when would the DOL finish wading through all of these comments and issue the final overtime pay regulations?   So here’s your first test, HR Geniuses:

When  has the DOL stated the proposed overtime pay regulations would be finalized and released:

  1. By the spring of 2016
  2. By July of 2016.
  3. By late 2016.
  4. All of the above.
  5. None of the above.

If you chose #4 – “All of the above” – you are a true HR Genius.   In public pronouncements two high ranking DOL officials  and the Wage and Hour Division (of the DOL) have offered up no less than three different deadlines for when to expect the final regulations to be issued.   At least the DOL avoided the problem Ralph Waldo Emerson noted of “consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Given this uncertainty, however, it is all the more important for employers to begin to prepare for the eventual changes sooner than later, so as to avoid being caught flat footed by an ambitious DOL.  Some steps to take now are discussed here.

The Cost of Doing Business Just Went Up (Again) – The DOL Proposes New Overtime Pay Regulations

“Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it.”
 
– David Lee Roth (Lead Singer – Van Halen)

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The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) just released proposed rules that will significantly increase the number of employees entitled to receive overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The highly anticipated changes will make an estimated 5 million currently “exempt” employees eligible for overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

The major changes relate to the amount of salary required for the “executive, administrative, and professional” exemptions, and the amount of total annual pay required for the “highly compensated employee” exemption.

The proposed rule for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions more than doubles the minimum salary level from its current level of $455 per week ($23,660 annualized) to approximately $921 per week ($47,892 annualized) in 2015, and $970 per week ($50,440 annualized) in 2016. The DOL has proposed automatically updating this salary amount so that it will increase without additional rulemaking.

The proposed rule also raises the total annual compensation required to qualify for the highly-compensated employee exemption from the $100,000 to at least $122,148. Like the base salary requirement, the DOL has also proposed updating the total annual compensation amount for this exemption so that it will increase without additional rulemaking.

Many stakeholders expected the DOL to propose changes to the “duties test” applicable to the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions. The DOL did not propose specific changes to any of the duties tests, but rather, solicited public comments on them, as well as on the proposed salary levels.

As the changes are “proposed,” they do not currently have the force of law.  They could also be modified after the public “comment period” and further DOL review.  When the final regulations are issued they will likely not take effect for several months after publication. These administrative steps will likely push the effective date of the legally binding “final” regulations into 2016.

In the interim, employers would be well served  to revisit their current “salaried exempt” classifications, as they will have some important decisons to make, including: (1) whether to increase certain job classifications’ salaries to meet the new salary thresholds; (2) whether to convert certain salaried employees to hourly non-exempt and track hours worked; (3) when to implement any changes; and (4) figuring out how to pay for the increased labor costs.

 

Wisconsin Modifies Wage Law’s Recordkeeping Requirements

Wisconsin employers recently received some good news from the Legislature: effective April 17, 2014 employers are no longer required to keep payroll records tracking the “hours worked” of their salaried employees who are “exempt” from Wisconsin’s overtime compensation laws.  This change brings Wisconsin’s payroll recordkeeping requirements in line with those of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Wisconsin companies no longer have to keep precise daily or weekly time records for their salaried exempt professional, executive (i.e. managerial and supervisory), administrative, and computer professional employees.  See Wis. Stats. §104.09.

Employers who previously struggled complying with Wisconsin’s recordkeeping obligations will obviously welcome the lowered administrative burden. But this lower burden may come at a higher price – what if an employee files an overtime pay claim in court or at the Department of Labor (“DOL”) alleging that the employer “misclassified” him/her as overtime exempt?

Often in these cases an employee claims to have worked substantial amounts of overtime hours each week, and offers as “evidence”: (1) a self-serving log or spreadsheet showing a huge number of overtime hours worked; and/or (2) self-serving testimony that he/she worked all hours of the day and night, including weekends. Employers who do not have time cards to refute the claimed amount of overtime hours worked are then forced to rely on anecdotal evidence such as: (1) observations of when the employee “typically” arrived at and/or left work; or (2)  the employee’s computer “log on” and “log off” times.  The DOL or jury then decides how many overtime hours the employee worked each week.

Given this risk, employers would be well served to re-examine whether the employees they classify as “salaried exempt” truly satisfy all of an applicable exemption’s requirements.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
 Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
 @wagelaws

 

Sweat the Little HR Details

Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence for employees and ex-employees to file lawsuits and other claims against their employers.  In 2012 there were over 100,000 discrimination and retaliation charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alone.  There were also thousands of claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)  and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and innumerable wrongful termination claims, breach of employment agreement claims, grievance arbitrations, and non-competition disputes.

Given this potential exposure, it is critical that a Human Resources Manager “sweat the details” so that if an action if filed against his or her company, the company is in a better position to defend against and (hopefully) defeat it.

One little detail that I frequently see overlooked by company officials involves termination letters.  It is not enough to prepare a termination letter and give it to the employee.  It is critical that the company keep a signed and dated copy of the termination letter on company letterhead in the employee’s personnel file.  

Failure to do so creates numerous evidentiary problems.  First, the employee may claim the company never gave him a termination letter, and challenge the reasons the company now asserts were the basis for his termination.  Second, unless prior steps are taken, printing off an unsigned “draft” from the electronic files often automatically changes the date on the letter, creating further confusion regarding when the termination occurred.  Third, the person who originally signed the letter may not be employed still, making it difficult to prove what was communicated to the employee at the time of termination, and by whom.

To avoid creating these unnecessary evidentiary issues, take the extra couple minutes to make a copy of the signed, dated termination letter, and put it in the employee’s personnel file.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter
@HRGeniusBar &  @wagelaws

Salary Levels and Overtime Exemptions Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

Employers who wonder whether they have properly classified their salaried employees as exempt from overtime under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) would be well advised to consider one simple principle: the higher the employee’s salary, the more likely the employee will be found to be exempt.

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) comments to its FLSA regulations provide:  “employees at higher salaries are more likely to satisfy the requirements for exemption as an executive, administrative or professional employee.”  DOL investigators have also admitted to me in wage and hour audits that they will closely scrutinize the duties performed by any salaried employee who makes less than $45,000 annually (even though the FLSA’s annual minimum salary is only $23,660).

This makes sense as a practical matter.  The DOL assumes that if an employee is being paid a significant salary, the employee is likely performing exempt work, as the company would not pay a high salary for mindless or menial work.  Furthermore, the DOL has less concern that an employee who works a lot of hours is being “taken advantage of” if he is compensated well.

Of course, one has to meet the “duties test” of any exemption.  But any company concerned about whether its salaried exempt employees are improperly classified should first look at the amounts of salaries paid.  The higher the salary, the less scrutiny there will be on whether the employee satisfies a particular exemption’s “duties test.”

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter
:  @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws

HR Tip – Save Those Voicemails

Probably every Human Resources Manager has received a voicemail from an employee advising them he is “quitting.”  Sometimes the employee even “thanks” the HR Manager and/or the company for the “opportunity,” and does not say anything negative about his employment experience.

I strongly recommend saving such voicemails from any employee the company suspects is a “litigation risk” (in their original audio format) for at least a year, and preferably two.

Why save them?  Employees often conveniently change their “stories” or recollections after quitting.  Such voicemails present compelling evidence to defeat an employee’s later claim that he was “fired” or “forced to quit”  (aka “constructive discharge”).  They are particularly useful in knocking down unemployment compensation claims and previously unreported claims of harassment.   The employee is left to “explain away” his own statements, and will not appear credible in doing so.

Why save them that long?  Under most federal and state laws, claims for discrimination, harassment and retaliation generally have to be asserted within 300 days of the alleged adverse employment action.  Retaining the voicemail for at least a year will ensure you have it available if a claim is filed.  Keeping them two years is preferable because claims under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) can be asserted 2 (or even 3) years later.

Bottom line:  don’t hit the “delete” button, and you may “save” your case!

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter
@HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws