A question I’m often asked by employers is whether they can decrease an employee’s rate of pay. This usually comes up after the business has a reason to do so, notifies the employee, and the employee responds that it’s unlawful and they’re going to report the company to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, U.S. Department of Labor, or call an attorney. Despite the angry employee, it is not an unlawful pay practice, so long as the employer and employee do not have a contract for employment that specifically sets forth a rate of pay or other compensation terms.

That being said, there are some other considerations. For example, best practices would be to only decrease pay prospectively – in other words, before the hours have been worked.  This eliminates the argument that the money was “earned” at the previous rate. For example, if an employee is paid on April 15 for work performed from April 1 to April 14, and you tell the employee on April 10 that their hourly rate of pay is being decreased, the old rate of pay should be used from April 1 through April 10 and the new (lower) rate of pay could be used thereafter. However, from a personnel (employee happiness) perspective, it would be a better practice to make the change effective April 15 for the next payroll, or even the payroll following, in order to give employees plenty of time to juggle their finances if need be. It also would be a good idea to provide the employee with notice of the change in pay in writing that clearly states it is applicable starting on whatever date in the future.

Finally, of course it goes without saying, the employee must at least be paid minimum wage at all times – and be sure that you are using the most recent wage whether it be the federal minimum wage, Minnesota minimum wage, or city minimum wage (such as the Minneapolis Minimum Wage Ordinance).

 

Hopefully you all got outside this weekend as Spring (and maybe we jumped right into summer) has finally arrived! In the spirit of Spring cleaning, I wanted to remind employers to take a look at your HR board, and make sure that all of your mandatory workplace posters are up to date. After having visited two employers in the past few weeks who were woefully outdated (one had minimum wage around $4), I thought it may be a good time to remind you all to check out your postings. If your board is cluttered with out of date notices, you might as well file those away too.

Minnesota mandatory workplace posters can be found here: http://www.doli.state.mn.us/LS/Posters.asp. Note, you can download it (for free) as a pack, and sign up to be notified when a poster has been updated (no reason not to!).  The last update was the age discrimination poster in September 2017.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “EEO is the Law” poster can be found here: https://www1.eeoc.gov/employers/poster.cfm.

Federal workplace posters (other than the EEO one) can be found here: https://www.dol.gov/general/topics/posters.  Take note if you are a federal contractor, there are additional notices you will need to post which are also available at that website.

The National Labor Relations Board Employee Rights Notice can be found here: https://www.nlrb.gov/poster.  Keep in mind this is no longer mandatory to post due to a court injunction – but employers may chose to post.

Of course, there are several companies that will sell you an all-in-one laminated poster. Those are nice too if you don’t mind shelling out the money, but be sure you get the correct poster(s) – not just Minnesota, and not just federal. Also be sure that you update the individual notices on the all-in-one poster – just because you have shiny laminated poster doesn’t mean you can post it and forget it when updates are made. Finally, feel free to cross out notices on the poster that do not apply to your business (i.e. FMLA poster for a company that has less than 50 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.

On April 12, 2018, the U.S. DOL issued Opinion Letter FLSA2018-19 regarding the compensability of frequent breaks. As the DOL notes, most employers provide employees a 20 minute (or less) paid break in the morning, a 30 minute (or more) unpaid lunch break, and 20 minute paid afternoon break. In this case, several employees had a serious medical condition under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that required a 15 minute break every hour.  Accordingly, out of an 8 hour day, the employees were only working 6 hours. The question posed by the employer was whether that time needed to be paid since it was less than 20 minutes (and the Supreme Court has held that rest breaks up to 20 minute are ordinarily compensable as they are for the benefit of the employer).

The DOL opined that an employee who uses intermittent FMLA for additional breaks need not be paid for that time outside of the normal 20 minute break provided to all employees (i.e. the morning and afternoon break).  The DOL concluded that neither the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) nor the FMLA requires that the breaks be paid, except that “employees who take FMLA-protected breaks must receive as many compensable rest breaks as their coworkers receive”. This opinion letter is a great reminder to employers of the interplay between the FMLA and FLSA (and often ADA).

The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) recently released a new fact sheet providing guidance on the “white collar” exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for positions common in Higher Education Institutions. These positions include teachers, coaches, professional employees, administrative employees, graduate teaching assistants, research assistants, and student residential assistants. As I know you know, the FLSA provides a so-called “white collar” exemption from minimum wage and overtime requirements for employees who perform executive, administrative, professional, or outside sales duties.

The new fact sheet notes that professors, instructors, and adjunct professors generally qualify under the exemption. The WHD also noted that “the regulations do not restrict where bona fide teaching may take place, to whom the knowledge can be imparted, or how many hours a teacher must work per week to qualify for the exemption.” Thus, the exemption may also apply to faculty who teach online or remotely.  The WHD notes that it is unlikely that recruiters qualify, and whether a coach qualifies depends on (among other things), the amount of time instructing student-athletes in a team sport. Additionally, the fact sheet indicates that professional employees including certified public accountants, psychologists, certified athletic trainers, librarians, and postdoctoral fellows, generally are exempt under the professional employees’ exemption. Employees may also be exempt under the administrative employees or the academic administrative employee’s exemption. Such employees may include admissions counselors, student financial aid officers, and department heads.

I think I’ve said this ad nauseam, but for each test, it is important to look at an employee’s actual job duties, qualification and education for determining whether an employee is exempt under any of the “white collar” exemptions. Employers cannot just rely on Fact Sheets, but must put each job to the test. Additionally, don’t forget the employee must also meet the salary basis test – currently a salary at a rate not less than $455 per week.

As food industry businesses are well aware, in Minnesota, you cannot take a credit for tips when computing minimum wage, nor can an employer require tip pooling (Surly Brewing recently paid $2.5 Million in back wages for alleged tip pooling).  In response to cities in Minnesota passing or introducing higher minimum wage ordinances (such as $15 in Minneapolis and St. Paul), Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow employers to pay their tipped employees a lower minimum wage. The bill is in response to concerns from primarily restaurants and bars, regarding the strain a higher minimum wage will incur on them.  The House committee is currently debating this proposed bill.

Under the bill, large employers (employers with annual gross receipts of $500,000 or more), may cap an employee’s minimum wage at $9.65, so as long as the employee makes an average of $14 per hour, including tips.  For small employers (employers with annual gross receipts of $500,000 or less), an employer may cap an employee’s base wage at $7.87 if the employee makes an average of $12 per hour, once the tips are included. If an employee does not make $14 or $12 per hour, depending on the employer’s size, the employer is required to pay them the higher of the Minnesota or federal minimum wage. Stay tuned!

As I’ve blogged about numerous times, I-9s are nothing to mess around with. As with other government websites, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched a new website yesterday for E-Verify.gov. As most of you know, E-Verify is a voluntary program; however, employers with a federal contract or subcontract that contains the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify clause must enroll in E-Verify. E-Verify also allows all employers to use it to confirm the eligibility of employees to work in the United States. Most employers can obtain employees’ work authorizations instantly or within 24 hours by using E-Verify. Employers can visit the new website to obtain more information on E-Verify and Form I-9. Additionally, employers that have a Minnesota state contract for more than $50,000 must E-Verify all new hires who will perform work on behalf of the state.

On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act. As you may remember, earlier this year the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) sought comments related to rescinding portions of the 2011 Obama Administration’s ban on tip-sharing arrangements (see my earlier blog here). However, the Act eliminated the issue before the DOL could address it. Under the Act, “employers who pay the full FLSA minimum wage are no longer prohibited from allowing employees who are not customarily and regularly tipped—such as cooks and dishwashers—to participate in tip pools.” However, there are two important caveats worth mentioning. First, the Act does not eliminate the prohibition on managers and supervisors from participating in tip pools. Second, the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (MnFLSA) prohibits employers from requiring employees to share tips (it has to be their choice to tip pool).  Thus, while the FLSA now allows tip pooling, employers in Minnesota are still prohibited from requiring employees to share tips.  Additionally, the Act amends the FLSA to prohibit employers from keeping tips.

The DOL issued a Field Assistance Bulletin on April 6, 2018, further detailing the impact of the amendment, noting it expects to proceed with rulemaking in the near future to address what this means exactly. Importantly, the DOL stated that when determining whether an employee is a supervisor or manager for purposes of tip pooling, it will use the duties test set forth at 29 CFR 541.100(a)(2)-(4). This test looks at whether the individual’s primary duty is management of the business or a department or subdivision, whether that person customarily and regularly directs the work of two or more employees, and whether the individual may hire or fire other employees or whose suggestions and recommendations as to hiring/firing/promotions/other change of status is given particular weight. Violations of the amended Act may result in recovery of all tips unlawfully held by the employer plus an equal amount as liquidated damages as well as possible civil money penalties.

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…