When is the last time you seriously worked on updating your job descriptions…with input from the hiring manager for that job? On May 11, 2018, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (this includes Minnesota), in Faidley v. United Parcel Service of America, Inc., held that the employer, United Parcel Service (UPS), was not required to accommodate an employee’s request to work no more than 8 hours a day, because an essential function of his job position was working overtime. Faidley had been working for UPS roughly 25 years, when a back injury began causing him problems while working shifts longer than 8-hours. Faidley’s doctor issued a permanent work restriction, limiting him to working no more than 8-hours a day. Faidley then requested an accommodation with UPS for his current position (package driver). UPS denied the accommodation request, determining that working overtime was an essential function of the package driver position.

In Faidley, overtime was determined to be an essential function of the employee’s job due to the unpredictable nature of workloads and weather, combined with the adverse effects UPS would suffer if packages were not delivered on time or other drivers had to be sent to finish a person’s delivery because that individual could only work 8 hours. Further, the job description and collective bargaining agreement with the union indicated that working overtime was a requirement for the package driver position. Based on this evidence, the Court agreed that working overtime was an essential function of a package driver, and UPS’s denial of an accommodation was not in violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act.

Thus, when presented with requests to accommodate an employee’s restricted hours due to a disability, keep in mind that you have a much better chance of having it affirmed (if sued) if you have documentation to support your position. The key here is that employers should make sure that this information is explicitly written in the job description and any collective bargaining agreement. Further, employers should be able to articulate objective reasons as to why the overtime is an essential function of the job. In other words, it may be time to dust off your job descriptions and look at them. Make sure they are current (jobs morph over time), and accurately reflect the job duties and essential functions. Be as specific and accurate (and reasonable) as possible. For example: work overtime up to 20 hours per week; lift up to 50 pounds; stand up to 10 hours, etc. The job description must reflect the job to be useful – do not try to be “Minnesota nice” with it and use as a recruiting tool. If 20 hours of overtime is essential, state it. This doesn’t mean you have a lost cause if you don’t specifically have it in there, but it sure will make the defense a lot stronger (and our job a lot easier!).

With summer starting and with it the rise of seasonal workers, I thought it would be a good time to review the fluctuating work week method (FWM) that can be used to determine overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act for employees who are paid on a salary basis and whose hours fluctuate week to week.  While this can be a very useful method of paying overtime to seasonal or other employees whose overtime fluctuates with certain times of the year, it also brings with it confusion.  Many times the confusion surrounding the calculation and application of the FWM exposes employers to potential liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act for failure to pay overtime wages.

What is the Fluctuating Work Week Method?

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are required to pay employees time and a half (150%) of the “regular rate” for all hours over 40 hours per workweek. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the agency that enforces and interprets the FLSA, allows employers to pay employees who receive a fixed salary and work fluctuating hours, overtime at half (50%) the employee’s regular rate.

Which employers use the FWM calculation?

Generally, seasonal employers use the FWM to provide employees a predictable set salary regardless of the amount of hours they work each week (e.g. workers whose hours are influenced by the weather).

When can an employer use the FWM calculation?

In order to use the FWM calculation for overtime, the following conditions must be met:

  1. The employee’s salary must be sufficient to compensate him/her at a rate not less than minimum wage, regardless of how many hours worked, whether few or many.
  2. The employee receives a fixed salary – this does not change even if they work less than 40 hours a week (exception for unpaid leave of absence for entire day or more due to illness).
  3. The employee’s hours fluctuate from week to week.
  4. The employer and employee have a clear mutual understanding that the employee will be paid a salary and overtime at half his/her regular rate, regardless of how many hours worked.
  5. The employee received overtime equal to at least half his/her regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours.

How to calculate an employee’s regular rate

To calculate an employee’s regular rate of pay, divide the employee’s weekly salary by the total number of hours worked that week.  Overtime is then paid at 0.5 times that regular rate, since the 1.0 of the 1.5x has already been paid via the salary.  The more hours the employee works per week, the less the overtime rate (because it is spread over more hours).

Alternatively, the DOL allows an employer to calculate an employee’s regular rate based on a 40-hour workweek. Thus, an employer may divide the employee’s weekly salary by 40 hours, regardless of how many hours the employee worked that week. The DOL permits this calculation since the regular rate at 40 hours will always be higher than if the employer were to use the employee’s actual hours when the employee has worked overtime.

Should I use the FWM?

With a clear understanding of the conditions and calculations, the FWM can be a great tool for employers to save on costs, and provide year-round salary predictability for non-exempt employees.

In one of two DOL Opinion Letters issued on April 12, 2018, the DOL clarified an extremely frequent question employers have – when to pay a non-exempt (hourly) employee for travel time (and gave me a great excuse to finally post a picture of a Jeep!). In other words, when is travel time “work”.  DOL Opinion Letter FLSA2018-18 finally provides some guidance regarding the DOL’s interpretation with three very common scenarios. Specifically, we know compensable work time generally does not include commute time, but what happens when an hourly worker does not have a normal business to commute to but rather goes to different job sites? Well, we know that travel away from home communities is worktime when it “cuts across the employee’s workday”, which includes the same normal work hours on a Weekend day as well (i.e. 9 to 5). Thus, the DOL has long held it does not consider work time that time spent as a passenger outside of regular working hours (see my earlier blog). However, what happens when employees don’t have a fixed location or set hours each day?

OPINION LETTER FACTS: At this employer, hourly technicians do not have a fixed location but work at varying customer locations each day. They have no fixed schedule, though they often start at 7 am, and often work between 8 and 12 hours, sometimes having to spend the night and complete the service the following morning. Occasionally technicians travel out of town for training. They are provided with vehicles to use for personal and business and covers all fuel and maintenance.

Scenario 1: “An hourly technician travels by plane from home state to New Orleans on a Sunday for a training class beginning at 8:00 a.m. on Monday at the corporate office. The class generally lasts Monday through Friday, with travel home on Friday after class is over, or, occasionally, on Saturday when Friday flights are not available.”

  • The key question is how to determine when travel time is compensable when there is no regular workday.
  • The DOL “scrutinizes” claims that employees don’t have regular or normal work hours, as after reviewing time records usually work patterns emerge (in other words it is a loosing argument for 99% of employers that there is no normal workday)
  • Assuming there is no regular workday, an employer can choose the average start and end times for the employee’s workday.  The employer and employee (or representative) can also negotiate and agree on a reasonable amount of time which travel outside of home community is compensable. When these methods are used, no violation will be found for compensating employees only during those hours.
  • If the employee chooses to drive instead of ride as a passenger in a plane, the employer may count as “hours worked” time spent driving the car or time that would have had to have counted as hours worked if the employee had taken the plane.
  • Time between a hotel and the remote work site is considered home-to-work travel and not compensable.

Scenario 2: “An hourly technician travels from home to the office to get a job itinerary and then travels to the customer location. The travel time from home to office varies depending on where the technician lives and can range from 15 minutes to 1 hour or more. All of this travel is in an assigned company vehicle.”

  • Time spent commuting between home and work is not compensable. Travel between site after arriving at work is. If an employee is required to report to a meeting place or pick up tools, travel from that site to the job site is part of the day’s work, regardless of contract, custom or practice.

Scenario 3: “Hourly technicians drive from home to multiple different customer locations on any given day.”

  • Same outcome as above.

Again, it’s still very fact specific, so keep in mind that this is an opinion letter related to one employer – but can be used as guidance for the rest.

The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) launched their new program, the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. As I wrote about previously, PAID is the WHD’s 6-month pilot program that allows employers to self-audit their payroll practices. If an employer discovers an overtime or minimum wage violation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), PAID allows them to voluntarily report it to the WHD. The goal behind PAID is to encourage resolution of claims promptly without litigation.  The catch to the program is employees are not required to accept the back wages from the employer or release any private right of action against the employer. Thus, an employer could still be subjected to a lawsuit. Additionally, the DOL can reject participation in the program and conduct a full investigation after the employer voluntarily reported a violation. As I said in my last post, participating in the program is more like playing a game of Risk than a get out of jail free card…

On April 2, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in Encino Motorcars v. Navarro that car dealership service advisors (individuals that consult and sell customers on servicing solutions at car dealerships), are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) overtime requirements. While this is certainly a win for car dealerships, the biggest win for all employers is the Supreme Court’s holding in this ruling that the FLSA is not to be read narrowly, but “fairly”:

Because the FLSA gives no ‘textual indication’ that its exemptions should be construed narrowly, ‘there is no reason to give [them] anything other than a fair (rather than a ‘narrow’) interpretation.'”

Since 1966, service advisors have been deemed exempt under an exemption added to the FLSA covering “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles [. . .].” However, confusion sprung when, in 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a rule rejecting the interpretation of “salesman” to include service advisors.

Thus, in 2012, relying on the DOL’s rule, current and former Encino service advisors sued the Mercedes Benz dealer, claiming Encino violated the FLSA for failing to pay them overtime. The case has been bouncing around ever since. In 2016, the Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, finding it improper for courts to defer to the 2011 DOL rule, because “the regulation undermined significant reliance interests in the automobile industry by changing the treatment of service advisors without a sufficiently reasoned explanation.” Accordingly, this ruling finally puts the issue to rest – service advisors are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirement.

On March 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new nationwide pilot program called “PAID” – Payroll Audit Independent Determination. For an initial 6 month trial period, employers can self-audit their wage and hour practices.  If violations are found, an employer can voluntarily report it to the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), in hopes of resolving the potential violations without liquidated damages penalties (usually an amount equal to the back wages due) and with a release of claims (as to the violations only).

Why? The DOL is hopeful that employers who discover violations will come forward and pay the employee 100% due promptly, in exchange for a settlement waiver and no liquidated damages, lawsuit, attorneys’ fees, etc. In turn, employees are paid faster than in a lawsuit or DOL investigation, and 100% of what is allegedly due.

Who is eligible? All employers subject to the FLSA. The program cannot be used for any pending investigation, arbitration, lawsuit, or threatened lawsuit (with an attorney involved). Also repeat offenders are ineligible.

What’s the catch? The DOL notes that it is an employee’s right to not accept the back wages, and not release any private right of action against the employer (and they cannot be retaliated against for such refusal). Further, unlike a typical litigation settlement release, the release must be narrowly tailored to only the identified violations (i.e. overtime, minimum wage, off-the-clock, misclassification, recordkeeping (for every violation)), and time period for which the back wages are paid. The WHD can still conduct future investigations of the employer, and employers cannot use the program to repeatedly resolve the same violations. So, in reality, an employer could notify 100 employees that they were paid incorrectly, and 90 accept and 10 reject and file a lawsuit seeking liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees (since they were just told by the employer that they “stole” their wages).

That being said, an employer could, as always, pay the employee the alleged back wages due in a supplemental check, and thus cut off their alleged damages as to that portion (which makes it a lot less attractive as a case to a plaintiff’s attorney), but they will not get a release. Sure, the employee cannot be forced to cash the check, but that would be a remote occurrence. Of course, the employee could still sue, stating they are entitled to interest or liquidated damages, etc., but such suit would likely not sit as well before a court without additional claims (i.e. you were paid what you were due, why are you taking up our limited judicial resources…).

How does the process work? Employers wanting to participate must review the program information and compliance assistance materials that will be available on the PAID website.  The employer then conducts the audit and identifies the potential violations, affected employees, time frame, and back wages. Next, the employer contacts WHD to discuss the issues, and the WHD determines if it will allow the employer to participate in the program. If allowed, the employer must then submit information such as the backup calculations, scope of violations for release, certification that this is all in good faith and the materials have been reviewed, and that practices will be adjusted to avoid the same violation in the future. The WHD finally issues a summary of unpaid wages (this is likely the same form they use today except no liquidated damages will be assessed).  KEY – once this process has been completed, the employer must issue the back wages by the end of the next full pay period.  Thus, employers should be careful to not begin/end the process until ready and able to pay.

In reality…while some are calling it a “get out of jail free card” for employers, I really don’t see it. An employer who discovers an error after a good faith internal investigation can chose to report itself to the DOL. Now, they are on the DOL’s radar with an admission that they believe they have paid their employees in error. The DOL can reject participation in the program and conduct a full investigation. If the DOL allows participation, all affected employees will be notified of the error (who may not have otherwise known), and can chose to opt-out and file a private lawsuit against the employer that just came clean. Further, neither relieves the employer of a future DOL investigation. Get out of jail free card? I think not. More like playing a game of Risk.

While this blog is clearly for the hearty Up North employers (who I know, like me, are all completely ready for summer), I also know that many now have employees nationwide – including California. Thus, I don’t wan’t to dwell on this too much, but wanted to at least mention a new decision issued yesterday by the California Supreme Court that has a big impact on California employees who are given “flat sum” bonuses during a single pay period (i.e. attendance bonuses, if you work on Sunday, you will get an extra $20) and who work overtime.

In a March 5, 2018 opinion, the Court in Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp. of CA held that “the flat sum bonus at issue here should be factored into an employee’s regular rate of pay by dividing the amount of the bonus by the total number of nonovertime hours actually worked during the relevant pay period and using 1.5, not 0.5, as the multiplier for determining the employee’s overtime pay rate.” Finally, the Court decided that, even though the DLSE’s language was not clear, any such overtime is owed retroactively.

Being the wage and hour geek that I am, which I have fully embraced, I subscribe to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Bulletin. Today’s bulletin speaks directly to employers, so I thought, why not pass it along. Besides, now I have completed No. 10 (keep reading), and feel like I have accomplished something today after I made my bed this morning (watch at 4:45: Naval Adm. William H. McRaven, Ninth Commander of U.S.Special Operations Command 2014 Commencement Address to the University of Texas at Austin).

So, here you go, courtesy of MnDOLI, 10 tips to not steal from employees:

Ten tips to help employers avoid committing wage theft

  1. Pay your employees at least the state minimum wage. New rates became effective Jan. 1, 2018 (see current requirements at www.dli.mn.gov/LS/MinWage.asp).  Employers operating in the city of Minneapolis need to be aware of the Minneapolis Minimum Wage Ordinance (see http://minimumwage.minneapolismn.gov).
  2. Pay your employees for all hours worked. Employees must be paid for employer-required training and for time needed to prepare to perform work, such as restocking supplies and performing safety checks. If you require employees to meet at a centralized location before driving to a worksite, pay the employee for the drive-time from the location to the worksite. Employers cannot require employees to remain at work and “punch in” only when it gets busy, “punching out” when business gets slow.
  3. Pay your hourly employees for overtime when their work hours exceed 48 hours in a work week. Federal law requires some hourly employees to receive overtime after working 40 hours in a work week. Some employees are exempt from this requirement. More information about federal and state overtime requirements is online at www.dli.mn.gov/LS/Overtime.asp.
  4. Pay your employees at least every 31 days.
  5. Do not misclassify employees as independent contractors. Such misclassification not only adversely impacts the employees, it also creates a competitive disadvantage for employers that comply with state laws related to workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance and tax withholding.
  6. Do not take unlawful deductions from your employees’ paychecks. Deductions for lost or damaged property, cash shortages, tools or uniform expenses generally cannot be made.
  7. Do not require your employees to pool or share tips.
  8. If you have a question, call us. We are available by phone at (651) 284-5070, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  9. Get more information online. Visit www.dli.mn.gov/LaborLaw.asp for information about all Minnesota labor standards laws.
  10. Share these tips. Encourage other employers and associations to subscribe to our Wage and Hour Bulletin at www.dli.mn.gov/LS/Bulletin.asp.

That about sums it up (though we know it is never that easy), and I have accomplished making my bed and No. 10.

On July 26, 2017, the Department of Labor asked the public for comments concerning revisions to the overtime rules.  Only a week later, the DOL has received over 12,000 comments. However, it appears a move is underway whereby individuals are cutting and pasting the same statement literally thousands of times. It appears an individual posted the 70th comment on July  31, 2017 (WHD-2017-0002-2990), stating that President Ford set the salary threshold in 1975 at what would be $58,000 today, and thus, the DOL should keep the $47,476 in tact (or greater). From what I can tell, the remainder 11,930 submissions so far have simply cut and pasted this comment. This makes it incredibly difficult to find and review different positions and share them here. Perhaps the DOL could institute an “Agree” or “Disagree” feature in the future?

 

The United States Department of Labor officially published its Request for Information (RFI 1235-AA20); Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees, today. In doing so, the DOL expressly acknowledged many employer’s concerns that the previously-set salary threshold of $913 per week was too high, it inappropriately excluded too many workers from the exemption who otherwise would pass the standard duties test, and it adversely impacted low-wage regions and industries. Accordingly, the RFI is intended to gather additional data regarding how the December 1, 2016 regulations affected employers and employees, and how the regulations could better be updated moving forward.

The RFI can be found at regulations.gov, where comments may be electronically submitted with a single click. Given the pending litigation in the District of Texas and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the DOL is merely asking for public comment at this time, versus publishing a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The DOL acknowledges that the RFI is issued consistent with President Trump’s February 24, 2017 Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda” which tasks federal agencies to identify regulations for repeal, replacement, or modification which meet certain requirements, such as hindering job growth.

The DOL is asking employers to weigh in on eleven (11) questions (summarized below):

  1. Should the DOL simply update the 2004 salary level ($455/wk) for inflation?
  2. Should multiple salary levels be created, and if so, how (size of employer, region, etc.)?
  3. Should there be different salary levels for executive, administrative and processional (as it was prior to 2004)?
  4. Should the DOL return to using the long and short test salary levels (and would the duties test need to change if so)?
  5. Does the 2016 salary threshold ($913/wk) in effect negate the duties test?  And if so, at what threshold does it not negate the duties test?
  6. What actions did employers take to prepare for the December 1, 2016 regulation (i.e., increase salaries, change hours, reduce pay, etc.)?
  7. Would it be preferable to base exemptions on duties only (no salary threshold)?
  8. Does the $913/wk threshold exclude occupations traditionally covered as exempt?
  9. Is the 10% non-discretionary bonus and incentive payment credit towards satisfying the salary threshold appropriate?
  10. Should the highly compensated thresholds have multiple levels, and if yes, how (i.e. size of employer, region, etc.)?
  11. Should the salary levels be automatically updated periodically, and if so, how/when?

The public has until September 25, 2017, to submit comments. Following the close of the comment period, employers can expect more waiting, as usual.  It appears from the RFI that the DOL will not be issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking while the cases are ongoing, so as is the norm, we will continue to wait.