Philadelphia Becomes First U.S. City to Prohibit Inquiries into Applicants’ Wage Histories

On January 23, 2017, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed into law the “Wage History Ordinance,” which bans all employers doing business in Philadelphia from asking job applicants about their wage histories, subject to a few exceptions. The Ordinance, unanimously passed by the Philadelphia City Council on December 8, 2016, amends Chapter 9-1100 of the Philadelphia Code, the “Fair Practices Ordinance.” The new law, the first for a U.S. city, will take effect on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

The Wage History Ordinance specifically prohibits employers from the following:

  • To inquire about, require disclosure of, or condition employment or consideration for an interview on the disclosure of a potential employee’s wage history, unless done pursuant to a “federal, state or local law that specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of wage history for employment purposes;”
  • Determine a potential employee’s wages based upon his/her wage history provided by his/her current or former employer, unless the potential employee “knowingly and willingly” disclosed such information to the prospective employer; and/or
  • Take any adverse action against a potential employee who does not comply with a wage history inquiry (anti-retaliation provision).

For purposes of this Section 9-1131, “to inquire” shall mean to “ask a job applicant in writing or otherwise,” and “wages” shall mean “all earnings of an employee, regardless of whether determined on time, task, piece, commission or other method of calculation and including fringe benefits, wage supplements, or other compensation whether payable by the employer from employer funds or from amounts withheld from the employee’s pay by the employer.”

Notably, the exception allowing wage history inquiries where a law “specifically authorizes” such applies not only when the inquiry is required by law, but when it is merely permitted by law.

The new law also requires a prospective employee who alleges a violation of the Ordinance to file a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act before he/she may file a civil action in court. Violations of the Ordinance can result in an award of injunctive or other equitable relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages (not to exceed $2,000 per violation), reasonable attorneys’ fees and hearing costs.

Advocates of the legislation, like Philadelphia Councilman Bill Greenlee, have suggested that the Ordinance is aimed at reducing the gender wage gap.  According to the “Findings” section of the Ordinance, women in Pennsylvania are paid 79 cents for every dollar that a man earns.  Amongst minorities, it claims that African-American women are paid 68 cents, Latinas are paid 56 cents, and Asian women are paid 81 cents for every dollar paid to men.  The belief is that, since women have historically been paid less than men, an employer’s knowledge of applicants’ wage histories can perpetuate a cycle of lower salaries.  Advocates profess that the Ordinance forces prospective employers to, instead, set salaries based on an applicant’s experience and the value of the position to the company.

Opponents of the Ordinance, like Rob Wonderling, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, denounce it as an unnecessary “hassle” driving businesses away from Philadelphia.  Corporations like Comcast have also threatened costly lawsuits contesting the legality of the Ordinance.

It is recommended that employers review their hiring practices and applications for employment in advance of the Wage History Ordinance’s effective date of May 23, 2017.  Moreover, anyone involved in the hiring and interview process must be trained to ensure compliance with the new law prohibiting inquiries into an applicant’s salary history.

For more information on the Wage History Ordinance, how it may affect your business, or ways to ensure that your company’s hiring documents and policies comply with the Ordinance, please contact John C. Petrella, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Employment Litigation Practice Group, at jpetrella@nullgenovaburns.com, or Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com, or 973-533-0777.

Supreme Court Punts on Whether Service Advisors Are Exempt from FLSA Overtime Premium Pay

The United States Supreme Court recently issued its long awaited decision in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro. At issue in the case was whether “service advisors” employed by car dealerships are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime premium pay requirement, as well as the validity of a related 2011 United States Department of Labor regulation. Unfortunately, the Court did not decide whether service advisors are exempt. Instead, the Court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with the instruction that the Ninth Circuit decide the issue “without placing controlling weight” on the DOL’s 2011 regulation.

The issues in Encino Motorcars were rooted in a provision of the FLSA that expressly provides that “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” is exempt from the FLSA’s overtime premium pay requirement. The FLSA is silent as to whether service advisors qualify for this exemption. In 1970, the DOL issued an interpretive regulation in which it concluded that service advisors do not fall within the exemption. Several courts rejected the DOL’s interpretation, and in a 1978 Opinion Letter the DOL changed course and took the position that service advisors are exempt. The DOL maintained this position until 2011, when it issued a regulation that, without explanation, excluded service advisors from the exemption.

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Encino Motorcars arose from a Ninth Circuit decision in which the Ninth Circuit relied on the DOL’s 2011 regulation to hold that a group of service advisors were eligible for overtime premium pay. The service advisors at issue would meet with a customer, evaluate the customer’s car, suggest repairs and dealership service plans, and then send the car to a mechanic who repaired and/or serviced the car. In remanding the case, the Supreme Court found that the DOL failed to follow basic procedural requirements of administrative rulemaking, which require administrative agencies to explain their rules. The Supreme Court found this especially important here, where the DOL issued a rule contrary to its prior position. The Supreme Court was critical of the DOL for its failure to explain adequately its rationale for changing its position, and its failure to consider the public’s reliance on the DOL’s longstanding policy. Car dealerships will have to wait for the Ninth Circuit’s subsequent decision, and possibly another Supreme Court decision, before the issue of whether service advisors are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime premium pay requirement is resolved.

For more information regarding the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, or regarding any other wage and hour issues, please contact John R. Vreeland, Esq. Director of the Firm’s Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group, at 973-535-7118 or jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com, or Joseph V. Manney, Esq. at 973-646-3297 or jmanney@nullgenovaburns.com.

New Jersey Assembly Picks Up Fight For $15 Minimum Wage

The fight for a $15 minimum wage is gaining steam in the New Jersey Legislature. On May 26, 2016, the New Jersey Assembly passed Bill A15, which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. Currently, the New Jersey State minimum wage is $8.38 per hour.

The $15 minimum wage would not get there all at once. Under the recently passed bill, the minimum wage first would increase to $10.10 per hour on January 1, 2017.  Then, between 2018 and 2021, the minimum wage would increase by the greater of $1.25 an hour or $1.00 an hour plus the CPI each year. An identical version of the Assembly’s bill has already passed the New Jersey Senate’s Labor Committee (Bill S15). If the full Senate passes the bill it will head to the Governor’s desk where it most likely will be vetoed.

But the Governor’s veto may not be the end of the bill. The Legislature is proposing that in the event of a Governor veto, the bill be put to a constitutional referendum for the voters to decide during the New Jersey General Election on November 7, 2017. This would not be the first time the Legislature managed to get around a veto to increase the minimum wage. The minimum wage was previously raised by constitutional referendum in 2013 when voters amended the State’s Constitution to increase the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour despite a Governor Christie veto.

While the proposed $15 minimum wage may seem a long way away, employers should start thinking now about how this would affect their business. Many employers are still struggling from the more than 15% increase in the minimum wage over the last two years. An increase to just $10.10 in 2018 (which is when the increase would take effect if the bill is vetoed but then approved through referendum) would reflect another 20% increase, or an almost 40% increase since 2013.  Such increased labor costs may be more than some employers can or are willing to absorb. For instance, Wendy’s recently stated it would replace some workers with automated machines in response to significant increases in minimum wage.

For more information regarding the potential impacts of Bill A15, or regarding any other wage and hour issues, please contact John R. Vreeland, Esq. Director of the Firm’s Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group, at 973-535-7118 or jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com, or Aaron C. Carter, Esq. at 973-646-3275 or acarter@nullgenovaburns.com.

Employers Face Exposure Under Title VII When Contracting For Temporary Workers

On November 18, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit allowed an employee of a temporary staffing agency to proceed with employment discrimination claims against a company to which the staffing agency assigned him.  In Faush v. Tuesday Morning, Inc., Docket No.14-1452 (3rd Cir. 2015), the Court found that for purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the worker successfully established that he was an employee of the staffing agency’s customer.

In this case, the staffing agency directly employed the worker, and assigned plaintiff to a customer for a 10 day temporary assignment.  The worker claimed that the customer discriminated against him based on his race while performing his duties.  Plaintiff asserted claims against the customer under Title VII, which prohibits employers from unlawfully discriminating against employees.  The Court found that the customer exerted enough control over the manner in which the worker performed his duties, so that it became an employer under Title VII.

In reaching this determination, the Third Circuit applied a test called the Darden test, which focuses on “the hiring party’s right to control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished.”  This “right to control” is based upon a consideration of the following factors: 1) skill required to perform the job; 2) who provides the tools; 3) location of the work; 3) duration of the relationship between the parties; 4) whether the customer may assign additional projects to the worker; 5) the extent of the worker’s discretion on when and how long to work; 6) wages/method of payment; 7) the worker’s role in hiring and paying assistants; 8) whether the work performed is a part of the customer’s regular business; 9) whether the customer is in business; 10) whether employee benefits are provided; and 11) the tax treatment of the worker.

The Customer’s Control Over Wages.  Here, the staffing agency set the worker’s rate of pay, paid wages, paid payroll and social security taxes, and maintained workers’ compensation insurance for the worker.  The staffing agency’s customer, however, also shared some responsibilities in connection with the worker’s wages.  First, the customer was obligated to notify the staffing agency if any minimum wage was owed to the worker.  Second, the customer agreed to pay overtime charges.  Third, the customer also obligated itself to pay for any changes arising from an increase in the staffing agency’s costs for wages, taxes, and insurance for this worker.  Fourth, the customer paid the staffing agency for each hour worked by the worker, at an agreed upon hourly rate.  The Third Circuit found that this method of payment indicated the existence of an employment relationship between the worker and customer.  The Court reasoned that in an independent contractor relationship, the customer would have paid a fixed rate to the staffing agency.  Instead, the customer indirectly paid the worker’s wages, plus an administrative fee to the staffing agency.

The Customer’s Control Over Hiring and Firing.  The staffing agency hired the worker and assigned him to this particular customer.  However, the customer reserved the discretion to find this worker suitable for the assignment and could also demand a replacement worker.  Therefore, the customer essentially exercised discretion over hiring and termination decisions.

The Customer’s Control Over The Worker’s Daily Activities.  The customer delegated assignments to the worker, directly supervised him, trained him, furnished equipment and materials, and verified the time he worked.   The customer also managed the temporary worker in the same manner as its employees.  Moreover, the worker performed unskilled tasks, similar to those performed by the customer’s employees.  Finally, the customer assigned the temporary worker to one of its stores, as opposed to working in a location controlled by the staffing agency.

The Customer’s Treatment Of The Worker.  The customer itself characterized the worker as a temporary employee, not an independent contractor.  In addition, the customer committed to providing the worker with a workplace free from discrimination and unfair labor practices, and also committed to complying with all employment laws.  Thus, the Third Circuit found that these protections were similar to those offered by an employer.

Based on the customer’s control over the worker’s wages, hiring and firing decisions, and daily work activities, and based upon its treatment of the worker, the Third Circuit found that the worker could proceed with his claim that he was an employee of the customer under Title VII.

Employer’s Take-Away.  Hiring a temporary worker exposes employers to potential liability under the employment discrimination and wage and hour laws.  Carefully review agreements with staffing agencies to ensure that the worker is treated as an independent contractor and not an employee.  Employers also need to review their protocols for all contact and assignments with temporary workers to ensure that they are not treated in a manner similar to that of employees.

For more information regarding this decision and to learn if your company’s treatment of temporary workers exposes you to liability, please contact Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Director of the firm’s Human Resources Practices Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com or Brigette N. Eagan, Esq., Counsel in the firm’s Human Resources Practices Group, at beagan@nullgenovaburns.com.

Wage and Hour Issues in the Summer Camp Industry

Summer camps, typically a go-to option for many parents to send their kids when school lets out, are now faced with a myriad of other non-traditional competitors.  Specialty camps, teen tours, and other options have affected the entire industry and forced some traditional camps out of business.  To compensate for revenue losses, many camps have turned to alternative sources of income, such as bringing in outside groups and renting out their facilities during off-season months.  Camp administrators must be mindful, however, that their expanded operating season can have severe implications under federal wage and hour law.

Section 13(a)(3) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) exempts “organized camps,” such as summer camps, from most of the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements.  However, to qualify for such exemptions, the camp must meet one of the following criteria:  (1) the camp must not operate for more than seven months in any calendar year, or (2) in the previous calendar year, the average receipts for any six months must not have been greater than one-third of the camp’s average receipts for the other six months of the year.  Determining whether the camp satisfies one of these criteria is not always clear.

In determining whether the camp has operated for more than seven months in the calendar year, not all activities count.  Maintenance completed in the offseason, for example, is not considered operations. Construction to build new facilities would be analyzed similarly.  However, renting the facility during the offseason may need to be counted in the equation, especially if the camp provides staff such as cooks, waiters, lifeguards, and maintenance workers.

Even if a camp does “operate” for more than seven months in a calendar year, it could still qualify for the FLSA exemptions if, in the previous calendar year, the average receipts for any six months were not greater than one-third of the average receipts for the other six months.  This calculation can be based on any six months in the year, which need not be consecutive.  For example, the six months with the highest average receipts might include the following:  (1) January:  $10,000; (2) May:  $10,000; (3) June:  $25,000; (4) July:  $50,000; (5) August: $50,000; (6) September:  $20,000.  The total revenue is $165,000 which averages $27,500 per month.  The six months with the lowest monthly receipts might include the following:  (1) February:  $5,000; (2) March:  $5,000; (3) April:  $5,000; (4) October:  $5,000; (5) November:  $5,000; (6) December:  $5,000.  The total revenue is $30,000, which averages $5,000 per month.  Because the average revenue for the lowest six revenue months ($5,000) is not greater than one-third of the average revenue of the other six months of the year (one-third of $27,500 is $9,167), this hypothetical camp would be exempt.  Obviously, camps with extended summer seasons and/or winterized facilities must be particularly mindful of this calculation.

Determining what constitutes a “receipt” and when it is received can also present challenges.  Certainly revenue from tuition, camp fees, and the camp store, would clearly be included in the average monthly receipt calculation.  Yet, for other types of revenue, such as vendor incentives and donations to the camp, the line is not as clear.  Similarly, if money is paid in January for a camper to attend in July, to which month should this “receipt” be applied?

The answers to these questions are not always clear; the analyses are fact-sensitive and require close attention to the particular details of each camp.  What is clear, however, is that camps forced to rely more heavily on outside income must be aware of these issues. The loss of the exemption in any given year requires full compliance with the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements and can lead to significant exposure for unpaid wages, including liquidated damages and fines in the event of a Department of Labor audit.

For more information, please contact John R. Vreeland, Esq., Director of the firm’s Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group, jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com, or Brett M. Pugach, Esq., bpugach@nullgenovaburns.com.

Addressing Wage & Hour Issues Before the Department of Labor Arrives

The U.S. and State Divisions of Wage & Hour have increased their enforcement efforts in recent years. While many investigations are the result of an employee complaint, a happy staff does not guarantee the Division will never knock on your door. Sometimes employers are just randomly selected because the Division has targeted a particular industry or geographic region. And it takes only one former, disgruntled employee in need of cash to start a federal or state investigation of your business.

In terms of things most people would like to avoid, a visit from the Division of Wage & Hour ranks up there with going to the dentist. Often employers view these visits as an intrusion and an unnecessary interference with their business. What employers often do not realize is that while the Division may use words like “visit” and “inspection,” they are conducting a formal investigation that has legal implications and they have the authority to subpoena your business and payroll records, to assess the company for any wages determined to be owing to your employees, to fine you and to take you to court to collect unpaid wages and fines. What sometimes starts as a one hour visit can turn into an ordeal lasting months, maybe years, requiring trips to the Division’s offices and even a courtroom.

Sticking with the dentist visit analogy, think of your wage policies and records as your teeth and gums. Neglecting them makes that inevitable visit more painful than it needs to be. But preventive care, like regularly reviewing and revising your payroll policies and conducting periodic self-audits, will make the visit more tolerable and certainly less expensive. A good self-audit pinpoints the same issues DOL investigators look for – are employees being paid for all compensable time, are employees improperly classified as exempt or independent contractors, is overtime being calculated correctly, are there improper deductions from employee paychecks, and is the employer maintaining the right records.

The prudent employer identifies issues and addresses them before they become problems. We frequently assist our clients in self-audits and can tell you that it is the rare employer that is in complete compliance with the FLSA and State wage and hour laws. Identifying issues on your own gives you the opportunity to self-correct, which immediately begins reducing your exposure in the event of a future audit. Self-audits are also looked upon favorably by the Division and can save your company tens of thousands of dollars when negotiating a reduction in the inevitable fines that flow from a Division citation.

For more questions about self-audits or the Wage & Hour investigation process, contact John R. Vreeland, Esq. or Patrick McGovern, Esq. in our Labor Law Practice Group.