Federal Judge Halts Final Overtime Rule Days Before Implementation

On November 22, U.S. District Court Judge Amos L. Mazzant III, sitting in Sherman, Texas, issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“USDOL”) enforcement of its Final Overtime Rule which would have more than doubled the minimum salary employees must be paid to be treated as exempt from overtime. The USDOL estimated that the Final Overtime Rule, which was set to go into effect December 1, 2016, would capture 4.2 million workers into the overtime ranks.

The case, entitled Nevada v. U.S. Department of Labor, Civil Action No. 4:16-CV-00731, was filed by 21 states in the Eastern District of Texas. The States argued that the Department of Labor lacked the statutory authority to use a salary-level test and an automatic updating mechanism to determine overtime eligibility. Judge Mazzant agreed. Judge Mazzant found that under a plain reading of the statute, nothing in the White-Collar exemption indicates Congress intended the USDOL to define and delimit parameters for a minimum salary level. Instead, the focus is on the employee’s duties and Judge Mazzant found that the USDOL “exceed[ed] its delegated authority and ignor[ed] Congress’s intent by raising the minimum salary level such that it supplants the duties test.” While the USDOL may appeal the preliminary injunction, and the Court will eventually rule on whether to grant a permanent injunction, the Court has told the USDOL that it may not enforce the Rule.

So, what does this mean? For now, because of the nationwide preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the Overtime Rule, employers do not have to comply with the Overtime Rule’s requirements.  Right now, the current minimum salary that must be paid to qualify an executive, administrative or professional employee for an overtime exemption is $455 per week and this will remain the minimum salary on December 1st and until such time as Judge Mazzant’s decision is modified at the permanent injunction phase or successfully appealed.

Whether and when the government will appeal is unclear. The Final Overtime Rule is unpopular with employers, employer groups (like the Chamber of Commerce), and Senate and House Republicans. Whether President-elect Trump’s Department of Labor will defend the Overtime Rule in the face of State and business opposition is an issue that will be addressed in early 2017. We will keep you posted about any new developments regarding the Overtime Rule.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss the preliminary injunction against the Overtime Rule and options available to your business if it has already taken action to comply with the Overtime Rule, please contact John Vreeland in our Labor Group at (973) 535-7118 or jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com.

 

Major Changes to Federal Overtime Regulations Take Effect December 1. Are You Prepared?

This week, President Obama and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez announced the publication of a final rule to take effect December 1 that will overhaul the Fair Labor Standard Act’s overtime regulations. The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) estimates that these changes will add more than four million employees to the overtime rolls.

Right now, in general, an employee is exempt from overtime pay if the employee satisfies three tests:

  • Duties Test: The employee’s primary job duties qualify as executive, administrative, or professional in nature, as these terms are defined in the regulations.
  • Salary Basis Test: The employee is paid on a salary basis, meaning the employee receives a predetermined and fixed salary that is not reduced because of variations in the quality or quantity of the work performed (i.e., no docking).
  • Salary Level Test: The employee’s weekly salary meets the minimum amount specified in the regulations.

The most significant change in the USDOL’s new rule is to the Salary Level Test. Today, the minimum salary needed to qualify for exempt status is $455 per week, or $23,600 annually. On December 1, 2016, this minimum will increase to $913 per week! This means in order to be exempt, an employee must be paid an annual salary of at least $47,476.

By more than doubling the minimum salary amount, many salaried employees who work long hours and currently qualify for an overtime exemption will on December 1 become eligible for overtime pay unless their salaries are increased. An employee whose weekly salary is below $913 will become overtime-eligible and you will have to track the employee’s hours of work through a verifiable timekeeping method and pay time-and-a-half for each hour worked over 40 in a workweek.

Employers need to start preparing now. First, you must identify your exempt employees whose salaries are below the new salary threshold. Then perform a business analysis to determine whether it is more cost effective to increase employee salaries to the minimum threshold, or treat these employees as overtime-eligible. We also recommend that you take this opportunity to evaluate whether your exempt employees are satisfying the other two tests. Many times we find that an employee’s exempt status is based on a job description that no longer accurately reflects the employee’s actual job duties. We recommend that employers self-audit their job classifications at least every two years to ensure employees classified as exempt currently satisfy a duties test and that pay practices for exempt employees meet the Salary Basis Test. Periodic self-audits are especially important now because the USDOL’s new rule establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary level every three years.

Employers cannot afford to be out of compliance with the FLSA. The Departments of Labor at both the federal and state levels have already signaled that they intend to aggressively enforce wage and hour laws. In addition, plaintiffs’ lawyers have become focused on wage and hour claims. Wage and hour litigation is by far the fastest growing type of employment litigation. Last year, more than 9,000 FLSA lawsuits were filed in the United States; many of them were filed as “collective actions” – the FLSA’s version of a class action. That is a 450% increase since 2000. This trend will almost certainly continue as plaintiffs’ lawyers hope to catch employers flat-footed and out of compliance with the new overtime regulations.

Wage and hour litigation can be expensive for employers. The FLSA provides for 100% liquidated damages – or double damages. It also shifts the plaintiff’s legal costs to the employer, meaning if the plaintiff proves a single violation of the law, the employer pays the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. This typically makes it difficult to resolve these types of suits early as the FLSA creates an incentive for a plaintiff’s lawyer to work the case and then recover attorneys’ fees when the lawsuit finally ends.

Again, the time to prepare is now, not when you receive the lawyer’s demand letter or the Department of Labor’s enforcement notice. A thorough self-audit, especially with the assistance of counsel, is an employer’s best protection against costly wage and hour enforcement actions and lawsuits.

For more information regarding these recent developments, please contact John R. Vreeland, Esq. Director of the firm’s Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group, at jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.