Category Archives: department of labor

House Republicans Try to Remedy Patchwork of Paid Sick Leave

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, November 10, 2017

Eight states, the District of Columbia, and more than 30 municipalities have enacted laws mandating differing paid leave requirements. Localities such as New York and San Francisco, have enacted some of the most aggressive sick leave requirements in the country. Employers doing business within the City of Chicago have also been left to deal with a trifecta of sick leave laws in 2017:  the IL Employee Sick Leave Act, the Cook County Paid Sick Leave ordinance, and the City of Chicago paid sick leave ordinance. All of this has resulted in an administrative nightmare for employers dealing with more than one set of sick leave requirements.

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On November 2, 2017, three Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, Reps. Mimi Walters (R-CA), Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), introduced a bill, The Workflex in the 21st Century Act (H.R. 4219). Supporters of the bill tout that the legislation gives employees job flexibility, while also giving employers more certainty and predictability over their leave practices. The bill provides for a voluntary program that is comprised of a combination of guaranteed paid leave and increased workplace flexibility options to employees. The amount of paid leave required (ranging from 12 days up to 20 days) would depend on an employee’s tenure and the employer’s size.  At least one type of workflex option would also be made available to employees, which may include a compressed work schedule, biweekly work program, telecommuting program, job-sharing program, flexible scheduling or a predictable schedule.  The incentive for an employer is that participation in the program would shield it from the mish-mosh of paid leave obligations stemming from state and local laws currently in effect.

The bill would not require employees to use the workflex option in order to take advantage of the paid days off. Also, to be eligible for a workflex arrangement, an employee would have to be employed for at least 12 months by the employer and would have to have worked at least 1,000 hours during the previous 12 months. More details regarding the bill can be found here.

Bottom line: Where this bill will end up obviously remains to be seen, but it has strong support from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Women Business Owners and other employer groups. Until there is a solution to the administrative hopscotch required of employers whose employees work in different cities, counties and states, employers must do their best to stay on top of the applicable paid sick leave requirements and related rules and regulations, and adjust their policies and procedures accordingly.

Is Your Company’s “Flexible Scheduling” Policy a Violation of Wage and Hour Law?

Contributed by Amanda Biondolino, October 25, 2017

An employer who allows its employees the “flexibility” to self-schedule time off the clock must make sure that it is paying its employees for all time worked. And beware, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), “hours worked” is not limited to only that time an employee spends performing his or her job duties. Short breaks of twenty minutes or less are also counted as hours worked and must be paid.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently held as a bright-line rule: Where breaks of twenty minutes or less are in question, the time must be paid. The court adopted the U.S. Department of Labor policy rationale that “breaks of twenty minutes or less are insufficient to allow for anything other than the kind of activity (or inactivity) that, by definition, primarily benefits the employer.” There will not be a factual analysis, or a case-by-case determination. Simply stated, if an employee is at the worksite, and is taking time away from their work-related duties for twenty minutes or less, they must be compensated for that time.

In the case decided by the Third Circuit, the employer did not deny that it permitted its call-center employees to log off their computers and use their time free from any work related duties, but it refused to call those time periods “breaks.” Rather, the employer considered it part of a “flexible time” policy, in which employees could take an unlimited amount of unpaid time away from work at any time, for any duration, and for any reason.

The court rejected the employer’s attempt to characterize time in a way that deprived employees of rights they were entitled to under the FLSA and considered the time an employee spent logged off the computer as a “break.” The employer violated the FLSA by not compensating employees for breaks that lasted twenty minutes or less.

Bottom Line: This is a reminder to employers that all policies and procedures should be vetted by experienced labor and employment counsel. In addition, all time worked including break periods should be accurately recorded, not only to comply with the record-keeping requirements of FLSA, but to document any abuse.

Employers should also keep in mind that some states may have their own break requirements that employers in those states must follow. Therefore, it is imperative that employers review their break policies and check applicable laws to ensure compliance with both federal and state law.

Although federal wage and hour laws do not generally mandate employee breaks, and state laws may vary, a strict policy that forces employees to choose between getting paid and basic necessities such as using the restroom runs contrary to “humanitarian and remedial” purpose of the act and will violate the law. These kinds of short breaks must be compensated. The FLSA and corresponding state wage and hour laws are designed to protect employees, and will be liberally construed.

 

 

IMPORTANT DOL UPDATE: The Final Rule on Doubling White Collar Salaries Is Shot Down By Texas Judge

Contributed by Heather Bailey, September 6, 2017

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Concept of time with businessman holding a clock

Previously, we reported to you on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Final Rule that raised the minimum salary threshold required to qualify for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) “white-collar” exemptions (executive, professional and administrative classification) from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $913 per week ($47,476 annually) as of December 1, 2016 (see our prior articles: U.S. DOL Publishes Final Overtime Rule and; Are you ready for December 1st? The FLSA Salary Changes Are Almost Here).

The Obama administration’s goal with this Final Rule, announced on 5/23/2016, was to give approximately 4 million workers the ability to earn overtime pay, instead of getting paid a fixed salary since many employers would not be able to afford to pay their otherwise exempt employees $47,476 annually. Implementation of this new rule had been temporarily stalled in a federal court in Texas just prior to it going into effect this past December 1st (see our prior articles: Court Enjoins DOL Overtime Rule and; Business Realities Under the Halted DOL Final Overtime Rule).

However, on August 31, 2017, Judge Amos L. Mazzant of the United States District Court, Eastern District of Texas answered many business owners’ prayers by ruling the DOL indeed exceeded its authority by more than doubling the minimum salary threshold for exempting white-collar employees (see the full case here).

The judge did not say the DOL could not raise the minimum salary at all. Rather, relying heavily on Chevron, USA, Inc. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), the judge stated that by more than doubling the current minimum threshold, the DOL effectively eliminated the need for looking to the employees’ actual duties and responsibilities—which was the essence of Congress’s intent when it created the FLSA white collar exemptions. The judge looked to the plain meaning of what it means to work in an executive, administrative and professional capacity concluding the primary focus was not the salary minimum but instead the actual duties and responsibilities.

What are the ramifications? The Department of Justice voluntarily dismissed its appeal of Judge Mazzant’s earlier preliminary injunction ruling putting the Final Rule on hold, so it seems unlikely it will appeal this ruling. However, this decision could catapult the Trump administration to issue a new rule providing for a more moderate increase in the minimum salary threshold – one that does not vitiate the primary focus of the “white collar” overtime exemptions: the employees’ actual duties and responsibilities.

Practice Tips:

  • The good news for now is that employers can continue to follow the previous DOL regulations for white collar exemptions (i.e., duties test and salary test).
  • If you did not do so previously, analyze your exempt positions to confirm they meet the duties test and are truly exempt positions. For example, is your manager truly a manager or is she really a lead worker? Is this manager hiring, firing and disciplining two or more employees?  Is your payroll clerk clearly just doing data entry or is he exercising independent discretion and judgment?  If the position does not meet the duties test, you transitioning the position to make it overtime eligible.
  • Ensure management is trained to enforce policies related to overtime pay such as those relating to working time, time clock procedures, meal and rest breaks, working off the clock issues, etc.
  • Did you already make changes to your employees’ pay or duties based upon the final rule going into effect on December 1, 2016?  While there are ways to change those decisions (i.e., you can change an employee’s pay moving forward for work not yet performed), you need to keep in mind morale issues for employees whose compensation may decrease either by way of a salary reduction or loss of overtime pay.  In these situations, it is highly recommended that you work with your counsel on determining the best practices for your business and your workforce.

With the judge’s ruling, many business owners will be able to find some comfort in being able to keep their exempt employees on a reasonable salary without having to break the bank.

DOL Reinstates Wage and Hour Division Opinion Letter Process

By Steven Jados, June 29, 2017

On June 27, 2017, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it is reinstating the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division opinion letter process, which was in existence for more than 70 years prior to a change in procedure in 2010.

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gavel on a white background 

DOL opinion letters allow employers (and employees) to submit questions to the DOL regarding whether particular employment practices comply with the laws the DOL enforces. The DOL then has the discretion to respond, publicly, with appropriate guidance. Opinion letter guidance can be presented to courts and investigators—by the employer that submitted the question, or by any other employer that reasonably relied on the opinion letter’s guidance—as part of a good-faith defense to allegations of wage and hour law violations.

To aid the opinion letter process, the DOL has established a website that provides additional information on how to submit opinion letter requests, and how to access prior opinion letter guidance.

The bottom line: Employers with close-call questions as to whether their wage and hour practices comply with the law now have another avenue to use to avoid potential exposure to wage and hour claim liability.  With that in mind, employers who wish to make use of the DOL’s opinion letter process should review the DOL’s website, and contact experienced labor and employment counsel to obtain additional assistance with drafting and submitting opinion letter requests.

President Trump Orders Immediate Freeze on Pending Regulations

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, January 26, 2017

18108277_sOn January 20, 2017 shortly after taking office, newly sworn in President Donald Trump directed White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to issue a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies directing them not to send any regulations to the Federal Registry until further notice, to withdraw any proposed regulations that have not been published and to postpone for 60 days the effective dates of regulations that have been published by the Officer of the Federal Register. As stated in Priebus’ memorandum, the purpose is to ensure the President’s appointees or designees “have the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations” and to consider “questions of fact, law, and policy that [such regulations] raise.”

With the change in administrations, this is not a surprising action. In fact, former President Barack Obama took a similar action in January 2009, at the beginning of his first term, by effectively freezing regulations that were pending from the former President George W. Bush’s administration.

What Does This Mean for Employers?

This means that any proposed or pending regulations are now facing uncertainty as to whether they will go forward, be overhauled or discarded. The most prominent pending regulations that this could impact is the Department of Labor (DOL) Final Overtime Rule. While the Final Overtime Rule was set to go into effect December 1, 2016, it was blocked from taking effect by United States District Court Judge Amos Mazzant in his November 22, 2016 ruling. Since the Final Overtime Rule did not go into effect the freeze on regulations could impact the Final Overtime Rule. However, it is likely that in order to repeal or reverse the Final Overtime Rule or any other regulations that have been finalized, President Trump would need an act of Congress or have the federal department or agency propose and enact a new regulation to replace the current one. Alternatively, since the DOL has appealed Judge Mazzant’s decision and pursued an expedited briefing schedule on December 1, 2016, President Trump could direct the DOL to abandon or withdraw the appeal. Thus, until the Fifth Circuit Appellate Court issues a decision on the appeal, or until such time as the President or DOL take action on the Final Overtime Rule, our recommendation, just as we suggested last November 2016 in response to the District Court granting an injunction on the DOL Final Overtime Rule, is that no action be taken until the issue is resolved.

With respect to other regulations, just like we stated with respect to President Trump’s executive order regarding the Affordable Care Act, it is too early to tell how or when employers will be impacted and what the new administration will ultimately do with respect to different regulations enacted during President Obama’s administration and regulations that impact businesses.

For our part, we will continue to monitor developments and provide additional information as it becomes available.

URGENT ALERT: Court Enjoins DOL Overtime Rule!

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, November 23, 2016

On November 22, 2016, a Texas federal district court granted a nationwide preliminary injunction against the U.S. Department of Labor’s overtime rule. State of Nevada v. U.S. Dept. of Labor, No. 4:16-cv-00731-ALM (E.D. Tex. 11/22/2016).

This injunction halted the rule’s December 1, 2016 implementation that would have more-than-doubled the salary level to $913 per week for overtime-exempt executive, administrative, and professional white collar workers.

We will provide additional details on what this preliminary injunction means for employers after the Thanksgiving holiday.

DOL FLSA Overtime Rule May Be Suspended

Contributed by Heather Bailey, November 17, 2016

The Honorable Judge Amos L. Mazzant III in the pending DOL overtime preliminary injunction lawsuit, State of Nevada et al v. United States Department of Labor et al. (Case No. 4:16-cv-00731-ALM, Eastern District of Texas), heard arguments yesterday as to whether the DOL should be enjoined at this time from implementing the new overtime and salary increase rule. The court – questioning the nationwide implications at stake here – was not interested in what the next administration will do come 2017 and wanted to focus on the law now.

After hearing arguments, the judge took them under advisement and stated he “hopes” to have a ruling by November 22, 2016. If he denies the preliminary injunction motion, he will have an additional hearing on November 28, 2016 before the December 1 implementation deadline.

What does this mean for employers who have been preparing for the new rule come December 1?  Keep preparing, however, it is perfectly permissible (and probably a good idea) to wait and see how Judge Mazzant rules next week before actually implementing any salary increases. Stay tuned as we will keep you updated come the judge’s ruling on November 22nd.