Category Archives: Wage-Hour — Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Colorado Wage Order

December 21, 2016

No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

Cave_BradBy Brad Cave

Hundreds of hourly employees sued their former employer alleging that they were due additional overtime pay. They asserted that the company failed to include their $35 daily travel meal reimbursement in their regular rate of pay when calculating time-and-one-half, meaning they were paid less overtime than they were due. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions apply to Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and Utah, recently analyzed their claim.

Calculating Regular of Pay

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay employees at one and one-half times the employee’s “regular rate” of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 per workweek. An employee’s regular rate of pay includes all remuneration paid to the employee, subject to certain exceptions. If a part of an employee’s pay is left out of the “regular rate” calculation, the employee’s overtime rate will be undervalued.

A large group of former hourly employees for a nationwide seismic-mapping services company filed a lawsuit claiming that the company violated the FLSA by failing to include an established meal allowance, which was paid to employees while traveling, in the employees’ regular rate of pay.  In their collective action, the parties asserted that the company required employees to travel away from home and stay in hotels near remote job sites for four to eight weeks at a time. Employees then typically returned home for about two to four weeks before traveling to another remote location. They often worked more than 40 hours per week while at the remote location, triggering overtime pay.

Per Diem For Meals

The company provided its employees with a $35 per diem for meals for all days at the remote location as well as the days spent traveling to and from the remote job location. The company did not pay the $35 meal reimbursement on days that employees worked from their home location or when food was provided at the remote job site.

Exception To “Regular Rate” For Traveling Expenses

The regular rate of pay generally must be calculated to include all remuneration for services paid to the employee.   One exception to this rule is that employers can exclude from the regular rate all reasonable payments for traveling expenses incurred by an employee in the furtherance of his employer’s interests and properly reimbursable by the employer. The regulations state that this exemption includes the “reasonably approximate amount expended by an employee, who is traveling ‘over the road’ on his employer’s business, for . . . living expenses away from home . . . .” 29 C.F.R. § 778.217(b)(3). The company argued that the $35 meal payments were exempt travel expenses and therefore, need not be included in the calculation of the employees’ regular rate.

Meal Reimbursement Was Exempt Travel Expense

The employees countered by arguing that the $35 payments were not exempt travel expenses because the employees were no longer traveling while they worked at the remote job sites for four to eight weeks at a time. They also argued that the phrase “living expenses” did not include the cost of food. The Tenth Circuit disagreed on both arguments.

The Court reasoned that the employees’ position that they were no longer “traveling over the road” when they reached their remote job site was a “hyper-literal interpretation.” The Court instead read “traveling” more broadly to include not just time in transit, but also time away from home. On the employees’ argument that the cost of food did not qualify as a “living expense,” the Court agreed with prior determinations by the U.S. Department of Labor to find that the cost of food away from home is an additional expense that the employee incurs while traveling for the employer’s benefit and therefore, is a living expense. The Court ruled that the $35 per diem meal reimbursements were exempt travel expenses and need not be included in the employees’ regular rate when determining overtime pay. The Court upheld summary judgment in favor of the company. Sharp v. CGG Land Inc., No. 15-5113 (10th Cir. Nov. 4, 2016). Read more >>

December 1, 2016

DOL Appeals Overtime Rule Injunction: Webinar At Noon (MT) Today

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970c-120wiBy Mark Wiletsky

On the very day that its final overtime rule was supposed to go into effect, the U.S. Department of Labor filed an appeal of last week’s preliminary injunction that temporarily halted the rule. The appeal will be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is located in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Will Appeal Be Expedited?

Appellate rules for the Fifth Circuit permit parties to file a motion for an expedited appeal, which means the appeal would be heard and ruled upon in a much shorter timeframe than normal, e.g., the normal timeframe for an appeal can be a year to 18 months. The court will grant such motion only for good cause. We expect that the DOL might try to expedite its appeal, especially given the change in administration coming in late January. As of this morning, however, there is no indication that the DOL has moved for an expedited appeal, but it is possible that it hasn’t been listed on the docket or otherwise been made public yet.

The DOL could also ask the district court to stay the preliminary injunction pending the appeal – in other words, to allow the new overtime rules to go into effect pending the outcome of the appeal. It is unlikely that the district court judge would grant a stay, but it would be a logical next step. Again, no motion to stay the injunction is yet listed on the court’s docket.

Webinar At Noon To Discuss Injunction and Appeal

Please join our free webinar at noon (MT) today (December 1, 2016) as I discuss what the preliminary injunction of the DOL’s overtime rule and the pending appeal mean for employers. I’ll also discuss options for employers who have been considering, or may even have implemented pay practices in anticipation of the overtime rule changes. Register for the webinar here. We will record the webinar for those unable to attend.

November 28, 2016

Dora Lane and Steve Gutierrez Discuss Impacts of Hold on Proposed Overtime Rule

pay-stub-and-money-shutterstock_373813009Holland & Hart labor and employment attorneys Dora Lane and Steve Gutierrez discuss potential impacts on employers and employees of the hold on the proposed Overtime Rule. Dora Lane was interviewed on Reno’s Channel 2 News.  Steve Gutierrez talked with KDVR Fox 31 in Denver.

Watch the Reno interview 

Watch the Denver interview

November 23, 2016

DOL’s Overtime Salary Threshold Increase Is On Hold – Now What?

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970cBy Mark Wiletsky

Many human resource professionals got into the office today not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Most are happy that the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new overtime salary requirement will not go into effect next Thursday, December 1, 2016, due to a federal judge’s grant of a nationwide preliminary injunction which prevents the DOL from implementing and enforcing the new rule. (See our post yesterday reporting on the injunction.) Yet, many organizations have already spent countless hours preparing for the new rule to go into effect next week and are wondering what to do now. Let’s review where things stand and your best options going forward.

Nationwide Injunction Delays Final Overtime Rule 

In September, twenty-one states sued the DOL in federal court in Texas seeking to stop the DOL’s final rule that more than doubles the salary threshold for the so-called white collar exemptions and calls for automatic increases every three years. Business groups and industry associations also filed suit in the same Texas court seeking a similar outcome. The state-plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction. Shortly thereafter, the business-plaintiffs filed an expedited motion for summary judgment. The two cases were consolidated under Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III.

On November 16, 2016, Judge Mazzant heard oral argument on the state-plaintiffs’ emergency preliminary injunction motion. He issued his ruling yesterday, granting the preliminary injunction on a nationwide basis.

To prevail on their preliminary injunction motion, the states needed to show, among other things, that they would have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their case. The court ruled that the states met that burden, finding that the plain meaning of the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) focused only on the duties of such positions, without a minimum salary level. The court stated that although the FLSA delegated authority to the DOL to establish the types of duties that might qualify an employee for these exemptions, it did not authorize the Department to disqualify employees who meet the duties requirements but do not meet the salary level established in the DOL’s final rule. The court concluded that the DOL exceeded its delegated authority and ignored Congress’s intent by raising the minimum salary level so that it “supplants the duties test.”

Anticipating The Next Legal Move

The preliminary injunction is only the first step in this legal challenge to the DOL’s final overtime rule, but it provides a huge blow to the Obama administration’s efforts to raise wages for U.S. workers. The DOL could appeal the court’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but according to a DOL statement, the agency is still “considering all of [its] legal options.” Whether an appeal would be successful is unknown. Absent an appeal, the Texas lawsuits continue, with a permanent resolution still to be decided. Read more >>

November 22, 2016

Overtime Rule Put On Hold: Court Grants Nationwide Injunction

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970cBy Mark Wiletsky

The new overtime salary requirement will not go into effect on December 1, 2016. A federal judge in Texas today issued a preliminary injunction in a challenge to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new overtime salary threshold. Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman division, ruled that the DOL does not have the authority to utilize a salary-level test or an automatic updating mechanism under the final rule.

The nationwide injunction means that the DOL rule which doubled the salary requirement for the white collar exemptions from $455 to $913 per week will not go into effect on December 1, 2016, as scheduled.

OT Changes Are Delayed, Not Necessarily Dead

Two lawsuits were filed in the Texas court seeking to stop the new overtime rule from becoming effective. The first one was brought by twenty-one states and the second by numerous business associations. The two cases were consolidated and will proceed before Judge Mazzant.

By granting the preliminary injunction, the judge has delayed the rule from becoming effective until further legal proceedings may occur. The court will need to rule on whether the injunction becomes permanent. The business parties’ motion for summary judgment, which seeks to throw out the final rule for good, has already been briefed and may be decided on an expedited basis.

Stay tuned as we will provide further analysis of the court’s ruling.

November 9, 2016

Colorado Minimum Wage Hike Passes

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970c-120wiBy Mark Wiletsky

Colorado voters decided to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour over the next four years. By about a 54-to-46 margin, Colorado passed Amendment 70 which amends the Colorado constitution to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage.

Gradual Increases In Minimum Wage

Amendment 70 raises the hourly minimum wage in Colorado by 90 cents per hour each year, starting from the 2016 minimum wage of $8.31. The annual increases will be as follows:

  • $9.30 in 2017
  • $10.20 in 2018
  • $11.10 in 2019
  • $12.00 in 2020

Tipped employees will continue to be entitled to a minimum wage that is $3.02 per hour less than the regular state minimum wage. The minimum wage for tipped workers is currently $5.29 per hour, plus tips. It will then go up by 90 cents per hour each year until reaching $8.98 in 2020.

After 2020, annual adjustments will be made to reflect increases in the cost of living.

Adjustments Already in Colorado Constitution

This is not the first time that Colorado voters have approved a Constitutional amendment increasing the minimum wage. In 2006, Colorado voters approved Initiative 42 which increased the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.85 per hour, and added a provision to the Colorado Constitution that requires an annual adjustment in the state minimum wage based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). That measure was approved with 53 percent voting “yes” and 47 percent voting “no.” Under that amendment, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has set the state minimum hourly wage each year, adjusting it either up or down according to the changes in the CPI over the prior year.

Under this year’s Amendment 70, the minimum wage will only be adjusted up for increases in the CPI. It will not go down, even if the cost of living decreases. Read more >>

September 20, 2016

Overtime Rule Lawsuit Seeks To Stop December 1st Changes

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970c-120wiBy Mark Wiletsky

Twenty-one states have sued the federal Department of Labor (DOL) seeking to prevent the new overtime exemption salary boost from going into effect on December 1, 2016. In a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Texas, the states argue that the DOL exceeded its authority when it issued its final rule increasing the salary level for exempt employees to $47,476 per year, with automatic updates to the salary threshold every three years.

Legal Challenge To The Overtime Rule

In the states’ complaint against the DOL, the states argue that the new rule is unlawful. One of their primary arguments is that enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the new overtime rule against the states infringes upon state sovereignty in violation of the Tenth Amendment. The complaint cites the increased payroll costs to the states that would result from having to comply with the new exempt salary levels.

The states argue numerous other reasons why the new overtime rule should be stopped, including that the DOL exceeded the authority granted to it by Congress when it focused on the salary level as the litmus test for exempt status rather than on the duties of white collar workers. The states argue that exempt status should apply to any “bona fide executive, administrative, or professional” employee, even if their salary falls below the new threshold.

The states also take issue with the automatic increases in the new rule through which the DOL will index the salary thresholds every three years. The states assert that the DOL should have to go through the normal notice and comment period in order to make future changes to the salary levels. Read more >>

June 21, 2016

Supreme Court Avoids Deciding Whether Car Dealership Service Advisors Are Exempt From Overtime Pay

Mumaugh_BBy Brian Mumaugh

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) 2011 rule that stated that “service advisors” at car dealerships are not exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), but declined to take the final step by declaring them exempt under the FLSA. Instead, the Court sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to analyze whether service advisors are exempt under the applicable FLSA provision without regard to the DOL’s 2011 regulation.  Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, 579 U.S.  ___ (2016).

Duties of Service Advisors

At issue are the “service advisors” in a car dealership’s service department. These advisors typically greet the car owners who enter the service area, evaluate the service and repair needs of the vehicle owner, recommend services and repairs that should be done on the vehicle, and write up estimates for the cost of repairs and services before the vehicle is taken to the mechanics for service.

While service advisors do not sell cars, and they do not repair or service cars, they are essential in the sale of services to be performed on cars in the Service Department. Consequently, the issue is whether they fall within the FLSA exemption for salesmen, partsmen, or mechanics. The case before the Court involved numerous service advisors who sued their employer alleging, among other things, that the dealership failed to pay them overtime wages.

DOL Had Flip-Flopped On Exempt Status

In 1970, the DOL took the view that service advisors did not fall within the salesman/mechanic exemption and should receive overtime pay. Numerous courts deciding cases challenging the DOL’s earlier interpretation, however, rejected the DOL’s view and found service advisors exempt. After the contradictory rulings, the DOL changed its position, acquiescing to the view that service advisors were exempt from overtime pay. In a 1978 opinion letter, as confirmed in a 1987 amendment to its Field Operations Handbook, the DOL clarified that service advisors should be treated as exempt.

After more than 30 years operating under that interpretation, the DOL flip-flopped again in 2011. After going through a notice-and-comment period, the DOL adopted a final rule that reverted to its original position that service advisors were not exempt and were entitled to overtime. It stated that it interpreted the statutory term “salesman” to mean only an employee who sells automobiles, trucks, or farm implements, not one who sells services for automobiles and trucks, as service advisors do.

Dealerships were understandably unhappy with the final rule and continued to challenge the DOL’s position in court. As cases went up on appeal, the Fourth and Fifth Circuit Courts of Appeals ruled that the DOL’s interpretation was incorrect. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, ruling instead to uphold the agency’s interpretation. Those contradictory decisions led the Supreme Court to take on the issue in the Encino Motorcars case. Read more >>

May 18, 2016

New Overtime Rule: $47,476 Annual Salary Required For White Collar Exemptions

Biggs_JBy Jude Biggs

Exempt white collar workers must be paid an annual salary of at least $47,476 under the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) just-released final overtime rule. That salary threshold is more than twice the current salary requirement for the white collar exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Highly compensated employees must be paid at least $134,004 per year (increased from $100,000) to meet that exemption. The new rule is effective December 1, 2016, so employers have about six months to decide what to do with current exempt white collar workers who do not meet the new thresholds.

Salary Level Will Automatically Adjust Every Three Years

In a change from its proposed rule, the DOL will now automatically update the salary levels once every three years. Originally proposed as an annual update, the final rule will raise the standard threshold to the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census region. The first adjustment will be posted August 1, 2019, 150 days in advance of its effective date on January 1, 2020.

Duties Tests Are Unchanged

Since 2004, the duties tests for the white collar exemptions have not included a limit on the amount of time that an employee can spend on nonexempt duties before the exemption is lost. Believing that a rise in the salary level will provide an initial bright-line test for the exemptions, the DOL refrained from changing the duties tests.

Nondiscretionary Bonuses, Incentive Payments, and Commissions

In the past, the DOL has not included nondiscretionary bonuses, incentive pay, or commissions when determining whether an employee’s salary meets the white collar exemption threshold; it looked only at actual salary or fee payments made to employees. In its final rule, the DOL will allow up to 10 percent of the salary threshold for non-highly compensated employees to be met by non-discretionary bonuses, incentive pay, or commissions. Note that these types of payments must be made on at least a quarterly basis to be included as “salary.” The DOL stated that this new policy was included in response to “robust comments” received from the business community which use these forms of pay as part of overall compensation packages for managerial and other exempt employees.

Next Steps

Over the next six months, you need to decide how to address previously exempt employees who no longer meet the salary thresholds. In order to meet the December 1 effective date, use the following checklist of steps to keep your pay practices compliant.

  • Examine your payroll records to determine which employees are potentially affected by the changes in the white collar exemptions.
  • Review the tasks performed by each white collar exempt employee to determine whether each meets the duties test under an applicable exemption.
  • If an employee does not meet the duties tests, you must treat them as non-exempt, regardless of salary.
  • Review if you are paying exempt employees on a salary basis, meaning they get paid their salary without reduction due to variations in the quantity or quality of work.
  • If an employee otherwise meets an exemption but is not currently paid at or above the new salary levels, decide whether to raise their salary to meet the new threshold or convert them to non-exempt and pay them time and one-half for all hours worked over 40 per week.
  • For any employees no longer treated as exempt, inform and train the employee, supervisors, and payroll administrators on proper timekeeping and overtime obligations. If appropriate, make sure such employees work as little overtime as possible, to hold down costs.
  • Consider whether the base rate of pay for such employees can be adjusted, so that with overtime pay, the employees earn about the same as before.
  • For employees who meet the exemption, implement procedures to update salary levels every three years to keep up with the DOL’s automatic adjustments.

Click here to print/email/pdf this article.

May 5, 2016

Five Tricky Wage and Hour Questions

Ritchie_JBy Jason Ritchie

Feeling confident that you pay employees properly? Here are five tricky wage and hour questions that may trip you up.

Question #1: One of your hourly employees needs Friday off next week to get his wisdom teeth pulled but he doesn’t have any vacation or sick time left. In order to avoid losing pay, he offers to work an extra eight hours this week (in addition to his 40 regular hours) to make up for next week’s lost time. Is that OK?

Answer: You’ll have to pay the employee overtime pay for any time worked this week in excess of 40 hours. Private employers are not allowed to “carry over” hours from one week to the next or offer compensatory time across workweeks. Each workweek must stand on its own when calculating overtime pay. It doesn’t matter that the employee requested or agreed to the arrangement. You still have the overtime pay obligation.  Of course, you are not required to pay the employee for the time he misses next week.

Question #2: All of your employees have access to the company’s email and instant messaging system on their mobile devices. You are concerned that certain non-exempt employees may be reading and answering work emails and messages “off the clock.” To avoid potential liability for that unpaid work time, you decide to pay everyone a salary at a rate that exceeds the salary threshold for the FLSA white collar exemptions. That should eliminate the risk of wage claims, right?

Answer: Probably not. You may pay employees a salary but you will still be obligated to track their time and overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week unless they meet the requirements of a recognized exemption. Specifically, in addition to meeting the salary threshold, exempt workers must be paid on a salary basis and meet certain duties tests.

Being paid on a salary basis means not only that the worker is paid a predetermined salary but also that the fixed salary amount cannot be reduced due to variations in the quality or quantity of work performed. Unless certain exceptions apply, exempt employees must be paid their full salary for any week in which any work is performed, regardless of the number of days or hours worked. That is a significant change for workers you have previously treated as hourly.

In addition, workers must perform duties that meet one or more of the exemption tests. For example, to meet the administrative exemption, the employee must have the primary duty of performing office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the company or its customers, and must exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. Most front-line employees or production workers will not meet any of the white collar exemption duties tests.

In short, simply paying employees a salary will not make them exempt unless they meet the other exemption requirements. You need to evaluate each position separately before concluding it meets an exemption. A better solution to your concern about “off-the-clock” work may be to establish a mechanism to record such work time, or to take away the ability for hourly workers to check emails and messages after hours.

Question #3: You pay straight time (i.e., not time-and-one-half) for hours worked on weekends or holidays. Does that violate wage laws?

Answer: Generally no, unless your state or municipal law requires premium pay at such times. Federal law does not require that you pay a premium for time worked on weekends or holidays. You must, of course, pay an overtime premium for hours worked over 40 hours in each workweek, but if the weekend or holiday work does not push the employee over the 40-hour-per-week threshold, straight time pay is acceptable.

Question #4: You have a policy in your employee handbook that states that any overtime must be approved by a supervisor in advance or the time will not be paid. Is that legal?

Answer: This one trips up a lot of employers. No, you may not withhold pay for time actually worked just because it was not approved in advance. If the employee does not follow your policy, you need to treat it as a discipline problem. But you may not refuse to pay the employee for that work time.

Question #5: In order to increase the diversity of your workforce, the CEO at your company wants to institute an unwritten policy that employees with a diverse background be paid 10% higher than non-diverse employees. While you agree with the CEO’s goals of increasing diversity, you are unsure about the pay premium. Are there any legal concerns with the CEO’s approach?

Answer: This unwritten policy raises potential discrimination concerns. If the policy results in some employees in a certain job category being paid less than other employees in the same job category, you risk disparate treatment claims to the extent that those being paid less can assert that the reason for the different pay is because of their race, national origin, religion, gender, or other protected characteristic. In addition, if the policy causes members of a protected category to be adversely impacted (e.g., lower bonuses, fewer advancement opportunities, etc.), it may give rise to a disparate impact claim.

In addition, the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) prohibits paying lower wages to employees of one sex than are paid to those of the opposite sex for equal work. Depending on how the policy impacts employees along gender lines, it also could trigger gender-based claims under the EPA. Although the CEO’s intentions are good, the proposed policy change could result in liability for the company.

Conclusion

Unique employment situations can give rise to many tricky pay scenarios. You’ll stay out of trouble if you know the rules, have compliant payroll practices, and conduct periodic internal wage and hour audits. And of course, when in doubt, consult with competent employment counsel.

Click here to print/email/pdf this article.