Tag Archives: minimum wage

November 20, 2017

Draw Against Commissions: Keeping FLSA Minimum Wage and Overtime Violations At Bay

By Mark Wiletsky

Paying sales employees on a commission basis can achieve multiple goals. Salespersons have an incentive to increase sales to earn more money while the company sees higher revenues without being locked into a guaranteed pay structure for underperforming employees.

Although various types of commission structures may be used, a common one is a draw against commission. Typically, this type of pay structure means that a sales employee is paid solely on the basis of commissions, but may be advanced a certain amount of money known as a “draw” for weeks in which the employee fails to earn a certain level of commissions. Then, the draw is deducted from future commissions when the employee’s commissions exceed the expected level. It sounds easy, but such arrangements can be fraught with FLSA traps.

Illustrative Case

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (whose decisions apply to Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee) recently examined an employer’s draw-against-commissions policy to determine whether the policy violated the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the FLSA. In that case, current and former retail and sales employees of hhgregg, Inc. and Gregg Appliances filed a lawsuit claiming that hhgregg’s commission policy violated the FLSA and state law in numerous ways. Here is a summary of the policy at issue:

  • In pay periods when an employee’s earned commissions fell below the minimum wage, the employee would be paid a draw to meet the minimum-wage requirement
  • In a non-overtime week (i.e., the employee worked 40 or fewer hours), the draw equaled the difference between the minimum wage for each hour worked and the amount of commissions actually earned
  • In an overtime week (i.e., the employee worked more than 40 hours), the draw equaled the difference between one and one-half times the minimum wage for each hour worked and the amount of commissions actually earned
  • Draw payments were calculated on a weekly basis
  • The amount of the draw would be deducted from commissions earned in future weeks
  • An employee could be subject to discipline, including termination, if he or she received frequent draws or accumulated a high draw balance
  • Upon termination of employment, an employee with a draw balance was required to immediately pay the company any deficit.

Retail and Service Establishment Exemption

The FLSA exempts retail or service employees from the overtime pay requirement but only if (1) “the regular rate of pay of such employee is in excess of one and one-half times the minimum hourly rate applicable” under the FLSA, and (2) “more than half his compensation . . . represents commissions on goods or services.” This exemption does not relieve employers from meeting minimum wage obligations.

In the hhgregg case, the employer argued that the exemption applied. The Sixth Circuit disagreed, pointing to the allegation that the commission policy paid exactly the minimum hourly rate in a normal, nonovertime week, thereby failing to meet the exemption requirement that it be “in excess of one and one-half times the minimum hourly rate.” Because the exemption didn’t apply, hhgregg could not escape overtime pay obligations.

Deductions of Draws From Future Earnings Was Not An Illegal “Kick Back”

Under the FLSA, when an employee earns less in commissions than was advanced through a draw, the employer may deduct the excess amount from later commissions, if otherwise lawful. In the hhgregg case, the plaintiffs argued that the deductions were not “otherwise lawful” because the draws to meet the minimum wage were not delivered “free and clear,” as is required by DOL regulation. Plaintiffs argued that the draws were loans that the sales persons were expected to repay, functioning as an unlawful “kick back.”

The Sixth Circuit rejected the plaintiffs’ argument, finding that because the employees could keep the full amount of the draw at the time it was “delivered,” it was not an unlawful “kick back.” Thus, deducting the draw payments from future commissions did not violate the “free and clear” regulation.

Immediate Repayment Upon Termination

Plaintiffs alleged that making employees immediately pay the company any deficit in draws upon termination of employment violated the FLSA. On that claim, the Sixth Circuit agreed, at least to the extent of allowing the lawsuit to proceed. The Court looked to hhgregg’s written commission policy to find that the sales employees could reasonably believe that they would be liable to hhgregg for any unearned draw payments at the time of termination. Because that provision could violate the DOL regulation that minimum wage be provided “free and clear,” the Court held that plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts in their complaint to support their claim that the policy violated the FLSA.

Off-The-Clock Work

Plaintiffs further alleged that the company encouraged sales employees to attend required training and store meetings “off the clock” in violation of minimum wage and overtime requirements. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that hhgregg managers approved of and sometimes encouraged sales persons to work “off the clock” to avoid incurring a higher draw.

hhgregg argued that any practice of off-the-clock work would not violate the FLSA because “by allegedly under-reporting working time in draw weeks and thereby lessening their draw payments, [plaintiffs] increased the amount of commission pay they subsequently received by the same amount.” Therefore, “the ‘off-the-clock’ work allegedly performed did not deprive them of pay; it simply shifted it to a different week.”

The Court rejected the company’s argument. Because the FLSA requires employers to pay the minimum wage for all hours worked on a week-by-week basis, an employer may not “shift” pay for hours worked to a future week. Therefore, the Court ruled that plaintiffs’ claim could continue.

Review Your Commission Policy

This recent draw-against-commission case highlights the FLSA issues that employers may face when implementing commission policies. If you use commission payments for any segment of your workforce, we recommend that you review your policy to confirm that it pays employees for all hours worked (e.g., no “off-the-clock” time). In addition, if you offer a draw against commissions, make certain that it meets your minimum wage and overtime pay obligations. Finally, if you rely on an FLSA exemption, such as the exemption for retail and service establishments, compare your commission policy to the exemption to ensure you meet the exemption test. Because this is a tricky area, consult with experienced counsel to resolve any questions or compliance concerns.

September 22, 2016

Minimum Wage For Federal Contractors Going Up In 2017

By Mark Wiletskyminimum wage increase ahead shutterstock_183525854

On January 1, 2017, the new minimum wage for employees working on covered federal contracts will be $10.20 per hour, up five cents from the current hourly minimum of $10.15. An even bigger increase will go into effect for tipped employees working on or in connection with covered contracts as the tipped-employee minimum cash wage goes up from $5.85 to $6.80 per hour.

Inflation-Based Increases

According to President Obama’s 2014 Executive Order establishing a minimum wage for employees working on federal contracts, and the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) corresponding regulations, the annual minimum wage for non-tipped employees increases based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, rounded to the nearest five cents. The annual percentage increase in the CPI-W over the past year was 0.287% which would raise the minimum wage rate to $10.18. Because the hourly rate must be rounded to the nearest multiple of five cents, the new rate beginning January 1, 2017 will be $10.20.

For tipped employees, the Executive Order requires that the minimum cash wage increase by $0.95 (or a lesser amount, if necessary) until it reaches 70% of the contractor minimum wage for non-tipped employees. For 2017, the hourly cash wage for tipped employees will go up by $0.95 cents to $6.80 per hour. Employers must remember that at all times, the amount of tips received by the employee must equal at least the difference between the cash wage paid and the Executive Order minimum wage. If the employee does not receive sufficient tips, the contractor must increase the cash wage paid so that the cash wage in combination with the tips received equals the Executive Order minimum wage.

Required Minimum Wage Notice

Covered federal contractors are required to inform all workers performing on or in connection with a covered contract of the applicable minimum wage rate under the Executive Order. The required notice may be met by posting the free poster on Federal Minimum Wage for Contractors provided on the Wage and Hour Division’s website. As with all employment law posters, this notice should be displayed in a conspicuous place at the worksite.

August 24, 2015

Home Care Workers Entitled to Minimum Wage and Overtime

BWiletsky_My Mark Wiletsky 

Agencies that provide companionship or live-in care services for the elderly, ill or disabled will now have to pay their home care workers minimum wage and overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Reversing a lower court decision, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new regulations that removed those employees from the “domestic service” exemption. The Court also struck down the challenge to the DOL’s revised definition of companionship services that now places a duty restriction on workers who may be considered exempt. 

Extension of FLSA Protections Is Reasonable 

For years, individuals who provide companionship or live-in care services were exempt from the minimum wage and overtime rules under the FLSA, even if those individuals were employed by a third party.  In 2013, however, the DOL reversed its prior interpretation of the domestic service exemption, adopting new regulations stating that third-party employers of companionship-services and live-in employees could no longer use the exemption to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime pay to their home care workers. The new regulations also narrowed the definition of companionship services: a worker providing exempt services can spend no more than 20 percent of his or her total hours worked on the provision of care, including meal preparation, driving, light housework, managing finances, assistance with the physical taking of medications, and arranging medical care. 

Before the new rules went into effect, trade associations representing third-party agencies that employ home care workers challenged the DOL’s new regulations in court and the district judge declared them invalid. The lower court ruled that the DOL’s decision to exclude a class of employees from the exemption because they were employed by a third-party agency contravened the plain terms of the FLSA. The court also threw out the DOL’s revised definition of companionship services, with its 20 percent limit on care-related tasks, as contrary to both the text and intent of the statutory exemption. 

On August 21, 2015, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia disagreed and upheld the new regulations. The appellate court found that the FLSA exemption did not specifically address the third-party employment question and therefore, the DOL had the authority to create rules and regulations to fill in the gap. 

The court also determined that the DOL’s new interpretation was “entirely reasonable.” The DOL explained that its change in policy was due to the change in the market for home health care. In the 1970’s, professional care for the elderly and disabled was primarily provided in hospitals and nursing homes so that services in the home were largely that of an “elder sitter” or companion. More recently, however, individuals needing a significant amount of care were now receiving that care in their own homes, provided by professionals employed by third-party agencies rather than by workers hired directly by care recipients or their families. These changes, as well as Congress’s intent to bring more workers within the FLSA’s protections, convinced the court that the DOL’s changed interpretation was reasonable. 

Potential Adverse Effects of FLSA Coverage Unfounded 

The third-party agencies challenging the DOL’s regulations argued that requiring minimum wage and overtime pay for home care workers would raise the cost of their services, making home care less affordable and creating a “perverse incentive for re-institutionalization of the elderly and disabled.” The DOL countered by pointing to fifteen states where minimum wage and overtime protections already extend to most third-party-employed home care workers and noted that there was no reliable data that these pay protections led either to increased institutionalization or a decline in the continuity of care. The DOL also cited the industry’s own survey that indicated that home care agencies operating in those fifteen states had a similar percentage of consumers receiving 24-hour care as those agencies in non-overtime states. 

The DOL further argued that the new rules would improve the quality of home care services, thus benefitting consumers, because the revised regulations would result in better qualified employees and lower turnover. It would also reflect the reality that home care workers employed by third-party agencies are professional caregivers, many of whom have training or certifications, who work for agencies that profit from their employees’ services. The appellate court found the DOL’s position reasonable, upholding its regulations. 

No Standing to Challenge Narrowed Definition of Companionship Services 

By ruling that the third-party agencies could not use the domestic services exemption, the court removed the ability of those agencies to use the companionship services definition to exempt home care workers from minimum wage and overtime protections. As a result, the trade associations’ members challenging the new, narrowed definition of companionship services would not be directly harmed by the revised definition. Because they would not suffer any injury from the narrowed definition, the challengers lacked standing to oppose the revision, denying the court of jurisdiction to resolve that issue. Consequently, the court ordered that judgment be entered in favor of the DOL. 

Practical Effect for Home Care Employers 

Pending any appeals, the DOL’s new regulations removing the ability of third-party home care agencies to exempt their home care workers from FLSA minimum wage and overtime pay will go into effect. Employers of home care workers should take steps now to ensure that they comply with the FLSA minimum wage requirement for all hours worked as well as paying an overtime premium for all hours worked over 40 per week. In addition to updating your pay practices, be sure to revise any affected policies and statements in your employee handbook, operational manual, timekeeping procedures, job advertisements and recruiting materials.

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May 6, 2015

Colorado Legislators Fail to Pass New Employment Laws in 2015

Hobbs-Wright_EBy Emily Hobbs-Wright 

The 2015 Colorado legislative session is ready to adjourn and few substantive bills related to labor and employment were passed by both chambers this session. Numerous bills on topics such as minimum wage, overtime and discrimination were introduced but with Republicans controlling the Colorado Senate and Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, it’s no surprise that little was enacted. Here's a look at employment-related bills that were considered this session.  

  • Raise Colorado’s Minimum Wage – Concurrent resolutions in both the House and Senate sought to put Colorado’s minimum wage on the November 2016 ballot to allow voters to decide whether to amend the Colorado Constitution to increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour on January 1, 2017 with annual increases of $1.00 per hour until 2020, which would see a $12.50 minimum wage. In years thereafter, the minimum wage would be increased annually for inflation (which is the current adjustment provided in Colorado’s Constitution). Both bills failed. (HCR15-1001 and SCR15-003)

 

  • Overtime Fairness Act – This bill would have set a minimum salary requirement for administrative, executive, supervisor and professional exemptions at 120 times the state minimum hourly wage rate. At the current $8.23 minimum wage, the salary threshold would be $987.60 per week. This bill failed to pass. (HB15-1331)

 

  • Repeal of the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013 – The 2013 law that established compensatory and punitive damage remedies for unfair employment practices under Colorado law was under attack in two bills. The Senate passed a bill that would have repealed all components of the 2013 law except for the expansion of age-based discrimination to individuals age 70 or older. (SB15-069) The House killed that bill. A separate bill introduced in the House sought to eliminate the punitive damage provision of the 2013 law. (HB15-1172) That bill never got out of the House.

 

  • Expand and Extend Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act – The current Colorado law that entitles parents to take time off of work to attend their child’s academic activities is set to expire on September 1, 2015. This bill sought to extend the law indefinitely and to expand the types of academic activities for which parents could take this leave. The bill passed in the House but never got out of the Senate committee to which it was assigned. (HB15-1221)

 

  • Limit on Audits Performed by the Department of Labor and Employment – This bill sought to amend Colorado’s employment verification law by limiting audits by the Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). Under this provision, the CDLE would be permitted to investigate only an employer’s compliance with the employment verification and examination requirements. This bill never got out of the House committee to which it was assigned. (HB15-1176)

 

  • Right of Private-Sector Employees to Inspect Their Personnel Files – This proposal would have created a right for employees and former employees to inspect or request copies of their personnel file within 30 days of a written request. This bill failed to pass the House. (HB15-1342)

 

  • Independent Contractor Determinations – Two bills sought to change the determination of independent contractor status under Colorado’s unemployment insurance law. The first sought to eliminate the requirement that the individual’s freedom from control and direction of the company must be shown “to the satisfaction of the division.” (SB15-107) This bill never got out of committee. The second bill before the Senate sought to create a bright-line test for whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor. That bill proposed to establish a numerical standard so that an independent contractor relationship would be recognized if at least six of eleven factors listed in the proposed provision were found to exist. This bill, SB15-269, was introduced rather late in the session and at the time of writing (and with just one week before the session adjourns), was still in committee.

 

Additional bills were introduced that would have affected some Colorado employers, including a bill to require that youth sports organizations conduct criminal history checks on persons who work with children and a bill that would create an income tax credit for employers who assist employees in repaying their student loans for degrees in certain fields, such as science, technology and math. These bill also failed to make it to the Governor’s desk.

Wrap-Up: A Quiet Session for Colorado Employers 

Colorado's legislative session adjourns for the year today, May 6th, and it concludes without Colorado employers having to learn new employment-related laws. Accordingly, on the state level, most of our labor laws are remaining status quo for another year. However, with so many recent changes related to federal employment laws, most Colorado employers will consider the lack of any new state employee protections good news.

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December 17, 2013

Colorado Raises Minimum Wage for 2014: Checklist for Complying with New Employment Developments

New YearBy Jude Biggs 

A new year is just around the corner.  Along with champagne toasts and resolutions to lose weight, January 1 typically brings new laws and regulations in Colorado.  2014 is no different.  Colorado employers should plan now for the changes going into effect in 2014. It is also a good time to make sure you are in compliance with the new laws that took effect in 2013.  Here is a checklist to help you stay on the right side of the law. 

  • Colorado Minimum Wage Goes Up to $8.00 per Hour on January 1.  The Colorado Division of Labor has adopted Minimum Wage Order 30 which raises the state minimum wage from $7.78 (2013) to $8.00 per hour, effective January 1, 2014.  The state minimum wage for tipped employees increases to $4.98 per hour, also effective January 1, 2014.  Colorado’s minimum wage is adjusted annually for inflation pursuant to the Colorado Constitution.  If this applies to any of your workforce, update your payroll practices to comply with the new rate on the first of the year.
  • Marijuana may be Legally Purchased and Possessed on January 1.  Adults may legally buy, use and possess small amounts of marijuana in Colorado beginning January 1st.  Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, Colorado employers may continue to have workplace policies banning its use by employees and prohibiting possession of marijuana on company premises.  Review and if necessary, update your policies to reflect that use of controlled substances and drugs that are illegal under either state or federal law are not permitted.  The new year is a good time to communicate this to your employees.
  • Rules Implementing Employment Opportunity Act (Credit History Law) Effective January 1.  Colorado’s Employment Opportunity Act, section 8-2-126, C.R.S., was enacted last spring and went into effect on July 1, 2013, restricting an employer’s use of credit history information on employees and applicants.  (See our post on that new law.) The Division of Labor has adopted new rules, 7 CCR 1103-4, that go into effect on January 1 to implement the provisions of the act.  The new rules include a couple of new definitions and clarifications not found in the act itself, including that “consumer credit information” does not include income or work history verification and that “prevailing party” means the employee who successfully brings, or the employer who successfully defends, the complaint.  The new rules also describe the enforcement mechanism for violations, including how complaints must be filed, the investigation process, initial decisions and appeals.
  • Rules Implementing Social Media and the Workplace Law Effective January 1.  Last spring, Colorado enacted a law, found at section 8-2-127, C.R.S., that restricts an employer’s access to personal online and social media sites of employees and applicants.  (We previously wrote on that law here.)  The law went into effect on May 11, 2013 but new rules implementing the law go into effect on January 1, 2014.  In large part, the rules, 7 CCR 1103-5, mirror the act itself but add that it is OK for an employer to access information about employees and applicants that is publicly available online.  The new rules also detail the complaint, investigation, decision, appeals and hearing process.
  • 2013 Family Care Act Extends FMLA Coverage to Care for Civil Union and Domestic Partners.  Effective August 7, 2013, Colorado’s Family Care Act, section 8-13.3-201 et seq., C.R.S., extends leave benefits under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to eligible employees to care for their civil union and domestic partners with a serious health condition.  If you are a covered employer under the FMLA, ensure that your FMLA forms, policies and practices provide that eligible employees may take leave to care for a seriously ill or injured civil union or domestic partner.  Also, for multi-state employers subject to the FMLA, remember that if you have employees in states that recognize same-sex marriages, the FMLA definition of “spouse” will include employees’ same-sex spouses due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor (further discussed here).
  • Age 70 Cap on Colorado Age Discrimination Claims Eliminated in 2013.  Colorado’s legislature enacted changes to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA).  Effective August 7, 2013, there is no longer an upper age limit of 70 years old for age discrimination claims under CADA, section 24-34-301, et seq..C.R.S.  This brings Colorado’s age discrimination law in line with the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act which makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees and applicants on the basis of age 40 or older with no upper age limit.
  • Prepare for Changes in Remedies Available for Colorado Discrimination Claims Beginning January 1, 2015.  Colorado added new remedies, including punitive damages, that may be recovered for violations of CADA for claims alleging discrimination or unfair employment practices that accrue on or after January 1, 2015, section 24-34-405. C.R.S.  With a year to prepare, now is the time to get policies in place to address reasonable accommodations, complaint procedures and other good faith measures to resolve workplace discrimination issues. 

Start the year off right by making sure you comply with these new developments in Colorado employment laws. We wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous and compliant 2014! 

For more information, contact Jude at 303-473-2707 or jbiggs@hollandhart.com.


Disclaimer: This article is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP. If you have specific questions as to the application of the law to your activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.


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October 7, 2013

Home Health Care Workers to Receive Minimum Wage and Overtime Protections

By Mark Wiletsky 

Health care workerIf your organization is in the home health field, be aware that the rules for how to pay home care workers is going to significantly change.  Under a recently issued Final Rule, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will extend FLSA pay protections to an estimated 1.9 million home care workers in the U.S. who currently are treated as exempt under the companionship exemption.  As a result, workers who provide in-home care to ill, elderly, or disabled individuals through a third party employer will be covered by the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) beginning January 1, 2015.   

Companionship Services Exemption Narrowed 

The so-called “companionship exemption,” implemented in 1975, allowed organizations employing workers who provide home care assistance to elderly, ill, injured or disabled persons to treat these workers as exempt from the federal minimum wage and overtime pay provisions.  The new Final Rule narrows the exemption for companionship services in two key ways. 

First, the Final Rule prohibits third party employers of health care workers, such as home care staffing agencies, from claiming the exemption for companionship services.  The rule makes clear that only an individual, family or household employing a home health worker may claim the companionship exemption.  This means that home care workers employed by a company that provides home health services must be paid minimum wage for hours worked and receive overtime pay as provided under the FLSA. 

Second, the definition of “companionship services” is limited to only fellowship and protection services, with attendant care limited to only 20 percent of the total hours worked with that person each week.  Examples of fellowship and protection services include reading, playing games, accompanying the person on walks, taking the person to appointments or social events and conversing.  If the worker provides more than 20 percent of their time on activities of daily living, such as dressing, feeding, bathing, toileting, housework, managing finances and arranging medical care, the worker is not exempt under the companionship exemption. 

Medically Related Services Not Included in Companionship Exemption 

A direct care worker who provides medically related services is ineligible for the companionship exemption.  Under the Final Rule, tasks will be considered medically related when they typically are performed by trained personnel, such as registered nurses, licensed practical nurses or certified nursing assistants, regardless of the training or occupational title of the worker actually performing the services.  This means that even if a worker normally meets the companionship exemption by providing only fellowship and protection services, the worker loses the exemption for any workweek in which he or she provides medically related services and therefore, is entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay, if applicable, for that week. 

Home Health Employers Should Review Pay Policies 

With approximately fifteen months to prepare for the January 1, 2015 effective date of this Final Rule, employers of home health care workers should take time now to review compensation and recordkeeping practices.  In particular, determine how you will track worker hours to ensure that you pay minimum wage for all hours worked and an overtime premium for all hours in excess of 40 per workweek.  Learn the rules for paying in-home workers for time spent waiting, sleeping and traveling, as summarized on the DOL’s Fact Sheet 79D – “Hours Worked Applicable to Domestic Service Employment Under the FLSA.”  Finally, prepare to update and communicate new pay policies to employees through your employee handbook, intranet policy portal and/or in-person training.


Disclaimer: This article is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP. If you have specific questions as to the application of the law to your activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.


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