Category Archives: employee compensation

The Holidays are coming… Make sure you have addressed your wage and hour compliance

Contributed by Sara Zorich, December 20, 2018

Around the holiday season, many employees take time off and businesses close down. Additionally, some businesses pay out bonuses to employees around the holiday season. All of these scenarios can impact overtime pay for non-exempt employees.

CLOSURE OF BUSINESS

Non-Exempt Employees

Non-exempt employees generally (exceptions follow) only need to be paid for hours they actually work – and not for holidays or weather-related office closings and are entitled to overtime for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. For example:

  1. Non-exempt employees do not need to be paid for New Year’s Day if they are given the day off.
  2. If the business is closed during inclement weather (e.g., snow days, burst pipes), non-exempt employees do not need to be paid when the business is closed and they are not working.
  3. If employees report to work and are sent home early (e.g., due to imminent ice storm), then non-exempt employees only need to be paid for the hours they worked, and not for the time that they were sent home early and are not working.

Where non-exempt employees perform work on a holiday (federal, state, etc.), they only need to be paid overtime (time-and-a-half) if they have worked over 40 hours in the workweek (or 8 hours in a day in some states):  For example: An employee who works New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day does not receive a shift premium (sometimes referred to as “overtime”) merely by virtue of working a holiday, unless the employee has actually worked more than 40 hours – in which case, overtime is paid only for those hours worked over 40 in the week.

Exceptions: Various state wage laws, employer policies (e.g., employee handbooks) and other contracts may obligate an employer to pay employees for certain holidays or business closings, and even pay shift premiums for working on holidays. Further, an employer policy may state that the holiday is counted as “hours worked” for overtime purposes. Make sure to review your policies carefully when administering payroll for holidays and closure.

Exempt Employees

Exempt employees are those who are not covered by the FLSA’s overtime requirements. When paid on a salary basis, these employees’ salaries may not be reduced in any week in which they work, except for limited circumstances (e.g., the employee’s personal absence not for sickness or disability, first/last week of employment). These exceptions do not permit an employer to reduce a salaried, exempt employee’s wages for holiday or inclement weather closures. Thus, these employees must be paid their regular, full salary, even though the business is closed for a holiday or due to weather (assuming the weather closure was for less than a week).

BONUSES

Employers must be careful when paying out bonuses at the end of the year to non-exempt employees. As with other bonuses, a holiday bonus must be included in overtime calculations for nonexempt employees unless it is completely discretionary or is a gift. If a bonus is promised or expected or is dependent on the quality, quantity or efficiency of production or hours worked, it must be included in the regular rate used for determining overtime pay. This becomes even more complicated at the end of the year. For example, if on January 1, the company promised a bonus if the production department made 10,000 widgets by December 15, 2018. If the production department achieved this goal and each non-exempt employee was paid a $100 bonus, that bonus would have to be allocated over the applicable period (50 weeks from 1/1 – 12/15). Then each non-exempt employee would become entitled to additional overtime for each week they worked overtime during that entire 50 week period based on the fact that the$100 bonus payment increased their regular rate and therefore the applicable overtime rate. 

Bottom Line: Employers need to be cognizant of how holiday closures and bonuses may impact their overtime requirements for non-exempt employees.

Your Company’s Bonuses Are Discretionary, You Say?

By Steven Jados, April 5, 2018

When it comes to employee bonuses, employers often prefer “discretionary” bonus policies—as opposed to more rigid and definite policies and procedures that answer the questions of “who” is eligible to receive bonuses, “when” bonuses will be paid, and “how much” the bonuses will be.

29483972 - bonus of businessmanA problem can arise, however, when the underlying method the employer uses to award bonuses remains consistent from year to year.  Under Illinois law, for example, past practice—even in a non-union setting—can give rise to a legally-enforceable expectation that a given employee is entitled to a bonus under the same method that has been used, uninterrupted, in prior years.

So what is an employer to do to protect itself?

The actual facts behind the company’s method for awarding bonuses will dictate whether a bonus is truly discretionary or not.  But the bottom line is that if your company intends to make changes to a long-used and fairly clearly-defined method of calculating bonuses, such changes should be made and announced to affected employees prior to the start of the bonus year.  Employers should also bear in mind that changes to a bonus procedure made in bad faith (for instance, where it appears clear that bonus procedures were changed specifically to deny a particular employee a bonus) may not withstand a court’s scrutiny.

For companies that truly do use a discretionary bonus system, include language in employee handbooks and other policy documents clearly stating (1) that bonuses are a discretionary, voluntary contribution by the company, based on company profitability and employee performance; (2) that bonuses are not earned until they are actually awarded and, as such, may be withheld, increased, decreased, or discontinued, at any time up to the bonus award date; and (3) that management reserves the unilateral right to change bonus policies at any time and for any reason. Whether the company’s bonus procedure is truly discretionary or not, factors that disqualify employees from bonus eligibility should also be clearly stated in all relevant handbooks and policies documents.

If you have concerns that your company’s discretionary bonus policies may not stand up to court scrutiny, we recommend contacting experienced employment counsel for a comprehensive bonus policy review.  In doing so, employers should bear in mind that state law often controls the question of whether a bonus is discretionary or not, and the law may differ significantly from state to state, so employers must be sure they seek legal advice covering all states in which the employer operates.

 

EEOC Actively Enforces Equal Pay Violations

Contributed by Jonathon Hoag, November 28, 2017

The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) for Fiscal Years 2017-2021 identified “Equal Pay” as a priority area that demands focused attention. The EEOC’s recent press releases show it is actively fulfilling this strategic mission.

gender equality

Gender equality scale

In the third scenario, the EEOC obtained a judgment against a pizza restaurant for violating the Equal Pay Act. Two high school friends-one male and one female-applied to be “pizza artists” and both were hired. However, the female applicant received $0.25 less an hour in starting pay. When she realized this discrepancy, she contacted the restaurant to complain. In response, the restaurant withdrew the offers of employment to both individuals. The EEOC’s attorney referenced the vast amount of recent news related to sexual harassment and stated unequal pay is simply another form of sex discrimination in the workplace. Further, the EEOC stressed that it will continue to thoroughly investigate and enforce equal pay requirements.

Bottom Line

The overwhelming media coverage of sexual harassment and unequal treatment in the workplace reinforces that employers must make equal treatment a top priority. Periodic review of policies and practices, with attention to pay policies, remains critical to limit employer exposure to lawsuits alleging unequal pay or treatment.

UPDATED: California Bans Applicant Salary History Inquiries

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, November 8, 2017

Add salary history to the growing list of topics that may be off limits on employment applications and during interviews, depending on where your business operates.

32420632 - law gavel on a stack of american moneyCalifornia joins a growing list of jurisdictions banning salary history inquiries. On October 12, 2017, California Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 168, which prohibits employers from seeking or relying upon applicants’ salary history and using such information as the basis for establishing compensation. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2018.

Like ban-the-box legislation (banning inquiries into criminal conviction history) and sick leave ordinances, this is likely the start of a national trend enacted on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction piecemeal basis.  California joins Massachusetts, Oregon, and Delaware, along with several municipalities, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and U.S. territory Puerto Rico, to enact such legislation in an emerging national trend.  Indeed, since we reported on Illinois’s forestalled HB1462 amending the Equal Pay Act in September, the Illinois House has overridden the governor’s veto, and the bill is on its way to the Illinois Senate for similar consideration.

The Basics

Like the other jurisdictions’ laws, California’s legislation is meant to remedy past gender-based compensation discrimination.  However, given the broad language, this bill will apply to all protected classes such as (and not limited to) race, religion, military status. Under AB-168, all employers in the state of California:

  1. May not inquire directly or indirectly into an applicant’s compensation and benefits (unless publicly available as provided by other laws).
  2. May not rely on salary history as a factor in determining whether to offer employment to an applicant or what salary to offer an applicant.
  3. Must provide the pay scale for the position to an applicant applying for employment “upon reasonable request.”  Note that this is a fairly unique provision in California’s law (at least for now).
  4. May not allow prior salary alone to justify any disparity in compensation.

Notably, if an applicant “voluntarily and without prompting discloses” compensation history, the employer may then consider it as a factor in determining the salary to offer an applicant.

Compliance Made Easy

In light of these trends in the workplace, employers must ensure that they are compliant with new and emerging laws as enacted, and to also perform routine audits – including employment forms, handbooks, policies, and templates.  As it relates to these salary inquiry laws, employers should (1) ensure job applications are compliant and do not include salary/wage inquiries, and (2) review interview questions, especially “scripts” used by management, and ensure that those conducting interviews are aware of the new unlawful inquiry.

What’s the Bottom Line on Salary History Inquiry Bans? Don’t Ask.

You may not ask applicants “how much do you currently make?” But you may ask: “how much would you like to earn in this position?” or “What are your compensation expectations?” or other similar future-oriented inquiries.

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.

 

 

Court Lays Out Guidance for Ensuring Hourly Workers Are Paid for Off-Duty Work

Contributed by Steven Jados, October 11, 2017

Wage-Hour2

Addressing an employment issue of interest in an increasingly digital world, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over lower federal courts in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin­­) recently upheld a prior ruling that the City of Chicago was not liable for paying wages for certain employees’ off-duty work time.

In the case of Allen v. City of Chicago, employees who alleged they were not compensated for off-duty work performed on their mobile devices were not entitled to recovery for that unscheduled, overtime work. Agreeing with the trial court’s decision that the City was not aware of the overtime work, and that the employees were not prevented or discouraged from reporting off-duty work time and seeking pay, the court ruled that the City should not be held liable.

In the decision, the court stated that the City would have been liable for unpaid wages it knew or should have known about the work at issue through the exercise of “reasonable diligence.” Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer must pay for all work it knew or should have known was being performed. Moreover, an employer is considered to have knowledge of the work if it should have known about it through the exercise of reasonable diligence. The court’s decision further illustrates and offers guidance on how employers can exercise such reasonable diligence:

For instance, it is important that employers institute a method by which any time worked outside of the normal business day can be reported in order to be compensated. In this case, the court found that the City of Chicago exercised diligence by allowing employees to submit “time due slips” on which they listed their off-duty hours worked along with a brief, albeit vague, description of the work performed.

Employers should also establish a reasonable policy and process for employees to report uncompensated work time after noticing a shortfall in pay. Such a process might involve an employee handbook provision that instructs employees to carefully review their paychecks, every pay period, to ensure that the paycheck accurately reflects all time actually worked. The handbook should also instruct employees to contact human resources or another appropriate member of management if a paycheck is short.

Lastly, in order to avoid landing on the wrong side of a legal decision, employers must take employee complaints under such a policy seriously by thoroughly investigating and adjusting compensation due when it is determined that there is a shortfall in the employee’s pay.

Bottom Line: Bearing all of this in mind, especially in the modern workplace, employers that have hourly employees who check e-mail, make calls, or conduct any other work outside of normal business hours on their cell phones, must heed the Seventh Circuit’s guidance by implementing and enforcing strong and clear policies that meet the “reasonable diligence” standard to ensure that employees are properly compensated for all hours worked.

Salary History Inquiry Bill Down But Far From Out

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, September 19, 2017

wage

On June 28, 2017, HB 2462, an amendment to the Illinois Equal Pay Act, passed both chambers of Illinois General Assembly. The bill would have made an employer’s inquiry into an applicants’ wage, benefits, and other compensation history an unlawful form of discrimination. Even worse for Illinois employers, the bill would allow for compensatory damages, special damages of up to $10,000, injunctive relief, and attorney fees through a private cause of action with a five (5) year statute of limitations.

On August 25, 2017, Governor Rauner vetoed the bill with a special message to the legislature that, while the gender wage gap must be eliminated, Illinois’ new law should be modeled after Massachusetts’s “best-in-the-country” law on the topic, and that he would support a bill that more closely resembled Massachusetts’ law.

The bill, which passed 91 to 24 in the House, and 35 to 18 in the Senate, could be reintroduced as new or amended legislation following the Governor’s statement, or the General Assembly could override the veto (71 votes are needed in the House, and 36 in the Senate, so this is possible) with the current language.

Why is this important?

With the Trump Administration, we have seen an increase in local regulation of labor and employment law. This means that employers located in multiple states, counties, and cities must carefully pay attention to the various laws impacting their workforces. Examples of this type of “piecemeal legislation” we have already seen in Illinois and across the country include local ordinances impacting minimum wage, paid sick leave, and other mandated leaves. Additionally, laws that go into effect in other jurisdictions may foreshadow changes at home as well (e.g., Illinois’s governor pointing towards Massachusetts’s exemplary statue).

Had it become law, this amendment would have effective required employers to keep applications and interview records (even for those they did not hire) for five years to comply with the statute of limitations for an unlawful wage inquiry (the Illinois Equal Pay Act already imposes a five year status of limitations for other discriminatory pay practices). By contrast, under Federal law, application records must be kept for only one year from the date of making the record or the personnel action involved (2 years for educational institutions and state and local governments).

What do you do now?

While the law has not gone into effect as of the date of this blog, it is likely that some form of the salary history amendment will ultimately become law in Illinois. Businesses should carefully review their job applications, interview questions, and related policies to avoid inquiries that may lead to challenges in the hiring process.

Additionally, record retention (and destruction!) policies should be reviewed for compliance with these and other statutes – as well as to ensure data integrity and security.

Finally, seek the advice of experienced employment counsel for best practices in light of national trends to remain proactive with an ounce of prevention