Opining on Regular Rate of Pay

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued three new opinion letters that address compliance issues related to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  As a reminder to my readers, an opinion letter is an official, written opinion by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by the employer that requested the letter.  The current group of letters issued include:

 

FLSA2020-3: Addresses excludability of longevity payments from the regular rate of pay. This opinion rules that longevity payments made to employees that clearly “must or shall” be paid cannot be excluded and must be used to calculate the regular rate of pay.  However, if the longevity payment is worded as that it may or may not be awarded, up to the discretion of the employer, then it would not need to be included in the calculation for regular rate of pay.

FLSA2020-4: Addresses excludability of referral bonuses from the regular rate of pay. The employer is offering a referral bonus to employees not involved in recruiting or human resources and would be issued in two parts, one immediately and one if the employee is still employed after a year and so is the employee who was referred.  The opinion states that the first portion of the bonus would not be included in the regular rate of pay calculations as it is not remuneration for employment as it is a voluntary program.  However, the second installment of the bonus would be included as it would be considered the same as a longevity bonus. If the employee received the bonus whether they were still employed or not, it would not be includable.

FLSA2020-5: Addresses excludability of an employer’s contributions to a group-term life insurance policy from the regular rate of pay.  In essence, the opinion states that just because a wage paid is subject to federal taxes under the Internal Revenue Code, does not make the same payment includable in the regular rate of pay.

For more information on opinion letters, see the WHD website.

WHD Issues Final Rule on Bonuses for Fluctuating Workweek Employees

On May 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor Wage Hour Division (WHD) announced a final rule that allows employers to pay bonuses or other incentive-based pay to salaried, nonexempt employees whose hours vary from week to week. The final rule clarifies that payments in addition to the fixed salary are compatible with the use of the fluctuating workweek method under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In the final rule, the Department:

  • Adds language to 29 CFR 778.114(a) to expressly state that employers can pay bonuses, premium payments, or other additional pay, such as commissions and hazard pay, to employees compensated using the fluctuating workweek method of compensation. (The rule also states that such supplemental payments must be included in the calculation of the regular rate unless they are excludable under FLSA sections 7(e)(1)–(8)). The rule grants employers greater flexibility to provide bonuses or other additional compensation to nonexempt employees whose hours vary from week to week, and eliminates any disincentive for employers to pay additional bonus or premium payments to such employees.
  • Addresses the divergent views expressed by the Department and courts―and even among courts―that have created legal uncertainty for employers regarding the compatibility of various types of supplemental pay with the fluctuating workweek method.
  • Adds examples to 29 CFR 778.114(b) to illustrate these principles where an employer pays an employee, in addition to a fixed salary (1) a nightshift differential and (2) a productivity bonus.
  • Revises the rule in a non-substantive way to make it easier to read, so employers will be able to better understand the fluctuating workweek method. Revised 29 CFR 778.114(a) lists each of the requirements for using the fluctuating workweek method, and duplicative text is removed from revised 29 CFR 778.114(c).
  • Changes the title of the regulation from “Fixed salary for fluctuating hours” to “Fluctuating Workweek Method of Computing Overtime.”

Example 1: Suppose an employee were paid $491 in fixed weekly salary plus an $8 per hour nightshift premium. In a week in which the employee works 50 hours, including 4 hours for which the employee receives the nightshift premium, the employee’s straight time pay is $523 ($491 salary plus $32 nightshift premium), and the regular rate is $10.46. The employer need only pay an additional $5.23, half time the regular rate, for each of the 10 overtime hours, for a total of $52.30. The payment of the $8 nightshift premium is reflected in this fluctuating workweek method computation. The fluctuating workweek method therefore correctly computes overtime pay owed under the FLSA when an employee receives a fixed salary and hours based premiums that compensate him or her for all hours worked.

For a complete text of the rule proposal visit the DOL website.

WHD Issues Final Rule on Qualifying as a “Retail or Service” Establishment

On May 18, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) announced a final rule to provide one analysis for all employers when determining whether they qualify as “retail or service” establishments for purposes of an exemption from overtime pay applicable to commission-based employees.

Section 7(i) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides an exemption from the FLSA’s overtime pay requirement for certain employees of retail or service establishments paid primarily on a commission basis. Today’s rule withdraws two provisions from WHD’s regulations. The first withdrawn provision listed industries that WHD viewed as having “no retail concept” and thus were categorically ineligible to claim the section 7(i) exemption. The second withdrawn provision listed industries that, in WHD’s view, “may be recognized as retail” and thus were potentially eligible for the exemption. As the rule explains, some courts have questioned whether these lists lack any rational basis.

As a result of the withdrawal of these two lists, establishments in industries that had been on the non-retail list may now assert that they have a retail concept, and if they meet the existing definition of retail and other criteria, may qualify to use the exemption. These other criteria include paying a regular rate at least one and a half times the minimum wage and providing commissions that comprise more than half the employee’s compensation for a representative period. Some establishments on the withdrawn non-retail list may have been deterred from availing themselves of the exemption and its compensation flexibilities. If establishments on the withdrawn non-retail list now qualify for the exemption, they have added flexibility regarding commission-based pay arrangements with their workers. For these employers and workers, they could consider whether, for instance, more commission-based pay is sensible.

Establishments in industries that had been on the “may be” retail list may continue to assert that they have a retail concept. Moving forward, WHD will apply the same analysis to all establishments to determine whether they have a retail concept and qualify as retail or service establishments, promoting greater clarity for employers and workers alike.

WHD is issuing this rule without notice and comment, and it will take effect immediately. Notice and comment and delaying the effective date are not required because both lists being withdrawn were part of WHD’s interpretive regulations and were originally issued in 1961 without notice and comment or a delay.

 

 

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