Tag Archives: overtime pay

May 3, 2017

Is Comp Time Coming To The Private Sector?

By Mark Wiletsky

Employees in the private sector may have the option of earning compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, H.B. 1180, which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to permit employees in the private sector to receive compensatory time off at a rate of not less than one and one-half hours for each hour of overtime worked. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Eligibility For Comp Time

Under the FLSA, compensatory time in lieu of overtime pay has long been permitted for public sector government employees. But non-government, private sector employees have not had the option of accruing comp time as the FLSA requires that private sector employers compensate overtime only through pay. Under this bill, private sector employees who have worked at least 1,000 hours for their employer during a period of continuous employment with the employer in the previous 12-month period may agree to accrue comp time instead of being paid overtime pay.

Employee Agreement For Comp Time

Under the bill, an employer may provide comp time to employees either (a) in accordance with the provisions of an applicable collective bargaining agreement for union employees, or (b) in accordance with an agreement between a non-union employee and the employer. In the case of non-union employees, the agreement between the employee and the employer must be reached before the overtime work is performed and the agreement must be affirmed by a written or otherwise verifiable record maintained by the employer.

The agreement must specify that the employer has offered and the employee has chosen to receive compensatory time in lieu of monetary overtime compensation. It must also specify that it was entered into knowingly and voluntarily by such employee. Requiring comp time in lieu of overtime pay cannot be a condition of employment.

Limits On And Pay-Out Of Accrued Comp Time

The bill specifies that an employee may not accrue more than 160 hours of comp time. No later than January 31 of each calendar year, the employer must pay out any unused comp time accrued but not used during the previous calendar year (or such other 12-month period as the employer specifies to employees). In addition, at the employer’s option, it may pay out an employee’s unused comp time in excess of 80 hours at any time as long as it provides the employee at least 30-days’ advance notice. An employer may also discontinue offering comp time if it provides employees 30-days’ notice of the discontinuation.

The bill provides that an employee may terminate his or her agreement to accrue comp time instead of receiving overtime pay at any time. In addition, an employee may request in writing that all unused, accrued comp time be paid out to him or her at any time. Upon receipt of the pay-out request, an employer has 30 days to pay out the comp time balance. Upon termination of employment, the employer must pay out any unused comp time to the departing employee. The rate of pay during pay-out shall be the regular rate earned by the employee at the time the comp time was accrued, or the regular rate at the time the employee received payment, whichever is higher.

Employee Use of Comp Time

Under the bill, employers must honor employee requests to use accrued comp time within a reasonable period after the request is made. Employers need not honor a request if the use of comp time would unduly disrupt the operations of the employer. Employers are prohibited from threatening, intimidating, or coercing employees either in their choice in whether to select comp time or overtime pay, or in their use of accrued comp time.

Will It Pass?

The bill passed the House 229-197, largely along party lines with all Democrats and six Republicans voting against it. Reports suggest that although Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, they will need at least eight Democrats to vote in favor of the bill to avoid a filibuster. Supporters of the bill urge that it offers workers more flexibility and control over their time off. Those who oppose the bill say it could weaken work protections as it offers a promise of future time off at the expense of working overtime hours for free. This is not the first time that federal comp time legislation has been proposed, so we will have to see if the Senate can line up sufficient votes to pass it this time around. Stay tuned.

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 >>

March 22, 2016

Class-Action Lawsuit Permitted To Rely On Sample Data To Determine Wages Owed

Husband_JBy John Husband

In the absence of actual time records, time spent by employees donning and doffing protective gear may be established by representative evidence in order to establish the employer’s liability for unpaid overtime pay in a class action lawsuit, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court today. The Court rejected the company’s argument that each employees’ wage claim varied too much to be resolved on a classwide basis. Instead, the Court upheld the class certification, sending the case back to the district court to determine how to distribute to class members the $2.9 million dollar jury award. Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, 577 U.S. ___ (2016).

Pay For Donning and Doffing Protective Gear

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), it is well established that employers must pay employees for time spent performing preliminary or postliminary activities that are “integral and indispensable” to their regular work. In the Tyson Foods case, over 3,300 pork processing employees sued, alleging that the company failed to pay them for time spent putting on and taking off required protective gear at the start and end of their work shifts and at meal periods. The employees argued that such time was “integral and indispensable” to their work and that when added to their weekly work hours, pushed them beyond 40 hours per week resulting in unpaid overtime.

Because Tyson Foods did not keep any time records for donning and doffing time, the employees presented representative evidence of the time spend on those activities, including employee testimony, video recordings of the donning and doffing process at the plant, and a study by an industrial relations expert, Dr. Kenneth Mericle. Dr. Mericle analyzed 744 videotaped observations to determine how long various donning and doffing activities took, concluding that employees in the kill department took an estimated 21.25 minutes per day while workers in the cut and retrim departments took an estimated 18 minutes per day. Using that data, another expert added that time to each employees’ recorded work time to determine how many hours each employee worked per week.

Tyson Foods argued that because the workers did not all wear the same protective gear, each individual plaintiff spent different amounts of time donning and doffing the gear. Therefore, Tyson Foods maintained that whether and to what extent it owed overtime pay to each individual employee was a question that could not be resolved on a class-action basis. Importantly, Tyson Foods did not attack the credibility of the employees’ expert or attempt to discredit the statistical evidence through its own expert, but instead opposed class certification on the basis that the individual variances of the time spent by each employee made the lawsuit too speculative for classwide recovery. 

Employee-Specific Pay Inquiries Do Not Destroy Class Action

The Court determined that the employees’ use of Dr. Mericle’s representative study was permissible to establish hours worked in order to fill the evidentiary gap created by the employer’s failure to keep time records of the donning and doffing activities. The Court refused to define a broad-reaching rule about when statistical evidence may be used to establish classwide liability, stating instead that it would depend on the purpose for which the evidence was being introduced and the elements of the underlying action. It ruled it appropriate to rely on  sample evidence when each class member could have relied on that sample to establish liability if he or she had brought an individual lawsuit. In the wage and hour context, if the sample data could permit a reasonable jury to find the number of hours worked in each employees’ individual action, the “sample is a permissible means of establishing the employees’ hours worked in a class action.”

The Court, in its 6-to-2 decision, refused to rule on the issue of how the jury’s $2.9 million award would need to be dispersed among the class members and how to prevent uninjured class members (i.e., those whose donning and doffing time did not result in overtime) from recovering any part of the award. In fact, Chief Justice Roberts, writing a separate concurring opinion, expressed his concern that the district court would not be able to devise an allocation method that would award damages only to those class members who suffered an actual injury. But, because the majority found that the allocation methodology issue was not before the Court, the case gets sent back to the trial court for that determination.

Litigation Tactics To Oppose Class Certification

The Court noted numerous litigation strategies by Tyson Foods that may have proved fatal to its case. First, Tyson Foods failed to move for a hearing to challenge the admissibility of the employees’ expert study by Dr. Mericle. A so-called Daubert hearing would have offered Tyson the chance to keep the representative sample out of the trial which may have eliminated the employees’ evidence of time spent donning and doffing protective gear.

Second, the Court noted that Tyson Foods did not attempt to discredit Dr. Mericle’s sample evidence through an expert of its own. By focusing its trial strategy only on attacking the class certification issue, the jury was left without any rebuttal to the employees’ experts.

Finally, Tyson Foods rejected splitting the jury trial into two phases, a liability phase and a damages phase. Instead, it insisted on a single proceeding in which damages would be calculated in the aggregate and by the jury. The jury came back with a $2.9 million award, which was half of what the employees’ sought, but still a significant award against Tyson Foods.

Blow To Businesses Defending Class Actions

Although the Court refrained from approving the use of representative data in all class-action cases, the Court’s decision makes it more difficult for employers to object to sample data when defending a class or collective action. Noting that representative data is not an appropriate means to overcome the absence of a common employer policy that applies to all class members, per its 2011 Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes decision, the Court allowed representative data to fill the evidentiary gap regarding hours worked where each employee worked in the same facility, did similar work, and was paid under the same policy.

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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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March 9, 2015

DOL May Issue Interpretations of FLSA Exemptions Without Notice-and-Comment Process

Mark Wiletsky of Holland & Hart

By Mark Wiletsky 

Today the Supreme Court sided with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), holding that a federal agency’s interpretive rules are exempt from notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Ass’n, 575 U.S. ___ (2015). The Court’s decision means that the DOL (and other federal agencies) may issue initial and amended interpretive rules without advance notice and without considering input from interested parties. 

DOL “Flip-Flopped” on Interpretive FLSA Rule 

In this case, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) challenged the DOL’s most recent interpretation on whether loan officers fell within the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) administrative exemption following a series of “flip-flops” in the DOL’s interpretation. In 1999 and 2001, the DOL issued opinion letters stating that mortgage-loan officers do not qualify for the administrative exemption to overtime pay requirements. After new regulations regarding the exemption were issued in 2004, the MBA requested a new interpretation under the revised regulations. In 2006, the DOL issued an opinion letter in which it changed its position, deciding that mortgage-loan officers do qualify for the administrative exemption. In 2010, however, the DOL changed its interpretation again when it withdrew the 2006 opinion letter and issued an Administrator’s Interpretation without notice or comment stating that loan officers once again do not fall within the administrative exemption. 

The MBA sued the DOL, claiming that the DOL needed to use the notice-and-comment process established by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) when it planned to issue a new interpretation of a regulation that differs significantly from its prior interpretation. 

Distinction Between Legislative Rules and Interpretive Rules 

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the text of the APA specifically excludes interpretive rules from the notice-and-comment process, so the DOL was free to change its interpretation on loan officers qualifying for the administrative exemption without providing advance notice or seeking public comment first. The Court pointed to the difference between “legislative rules” that have the force and effect of law, which must go through the notice-and-comment period, and “interpretive rules” that do not have the force and effect of law and, therefore, are not subject to the notice-and-comment obligation. 

Finding that the clear text of the APA exempted interpretive rules from the notice-and-comment process, the Court overruled prior precedent in a line of cases that has come to be known as the Paralyzed Veterans doctrine. Under that doctrine, if an agency had given its regulation a definitive interpretation, the agency needed to use the APA’s notice-and-comment process before issuing a significantly revised interpretation. The Court’s ruling today specifies that no notice or comment process is needed for interpretive rules, whether it is an initial interpretation or a subsequently revised one. 

Implications of Court’s Decision 

Today’s ruling means that the DOL’s interpretation excluding mortgage-loan officers from the administrative exemption stands. More broadly, it means that federal agencies, such as the DOL, are permitted to issue and amend interpretations of their regulations that will take effect immediately without any advance notice to the regulated parties. Accordingly, employers should stay on top of new developments so as not to miss any new regulatory interpretations that may impact their employment practices.  

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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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