Wage and Hour Wednesday: DOL Withdraws Trump “Independent Contractor” Rule

Our blog for Wage and Hour Wednesday deals with the Biden administration withdrawing the Independent contractor rule set into motion during the last days of the Trump administration.

In the press released issued this morning:

The U.S. Department of Labor today announced the withdrawal – effective May 6 – of the “Independent Contractor Rule,” to protect workers’ rights to the minimum wage and overtime compensation protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Department is withdrawing the rule for several reasons, including:

  • The independent contractor rule was in tension with the FLSA’s text and purpose, as well as relevant judicial precedent.
  • The rule’s prioritization of two “core factors” for determining employee status under the FLSA would have undermined the longstanding balancing approach of the economic realities test and court decisions requiring a review of the totality of the circumstances related to the employment relationship.
  • The rule would have narrowed the facts and considerations comprising the analysis whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, resulting in workers losing FLSA protections.

Withdrawing the independent contractor rule will help preserve essential workers’ rights. The FLSA includes provisions that require covered employers to pay employees at least the federal minimum wage for every hour they work and overtime compensation at not less than one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay for every hour over 40 in a workweek. FLSA protections do not apply to independent contractors.

In addition to preserving access to the FLSA’s wage and hour protections, the department anticipates that withdrawing the independent contractor rule will also avoid other disruptive economic effects that would have been harmful to workers had the rule gone into effect.

For more information about the FLSA or other laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division, visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd, or call toll-free 1-866-4US-WAGE.

 

Let the Podcasts Begin

Recently I was asked to do my first podcast ever.  Outgrowth a Slice of Pro Beauty Podcast, a group that caters to beauty salon owners and workers, asked me to come on the podcast to discuss the payroll pitfalls when working in or running a salon.  The discuss is in two parts and covers misclassifying workers and the resulting legal ramifications in addition to a whole range of payroll areas that can cause compliance problems. Though generally geared to the beauty salon business, my discussion would be useful to anyone who needs to worry about compliance issues.

I hope you find it useful and informative.

 

 

Be sure to register for our first payroll lecture/webinar of the year.  The topic is the 2021 Form 941 and is being held on Wednesday, March 24th starting at 10:00 am Pacific.  Click here for more details and to register.  Use coupon code CJYFRQA6 at check out to receive a 10% discount as a Payroll 24/7 BLOG FOLLOWER.  The webinar is pending approval by the APA for 1.5 RCHs.

 

DOL: Change of Administrations…Change of Opinions

The U.S. Department of Labor announced plans on March 11, 2021 to rescind two final rules that would significantly weaken protections afforded to American workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The first Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes the withdrawal of the Independent Contractor Final Rule issued by the department on issued on Jan. 7, 2021, for several reasons. They include the following:

  • The rule adopted a new “economic reality” test to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor under the FLSA.
  • Courts and the department have not used the new economic reality test, and FLSA text or longstanding case law does not support the test.
  • The rule would narrow or minimize other factors considered by courts traditionally; making the economic test less likely to establish that a worker is an employee under the FLSA.

Among its provisions, the FLSA requires covered employers to pay employees at least the federal minimum wage for every hour worked and overtime premium pay of at least one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for every hour worked over 40 in a workweek. An independent contractor has no FLSA protections.

The second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks to rescind a current regulation on joint employer relationships under the Fair Labor Standards Act, published in the Federal Register and which took effect on March 16, 2020. In February 2020, 17 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the department, arguing that the Joint Employer Rule violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The court vacated the majority of the Joint Employer Rule on Sept. 8, 2020, stating that the rule was contrary to the FLSA and was “arbitrary and capricious” due to its failure to explain why the department had deviated from all prior guidance or consider the effect of the rule on workers.

The department invites comments from the public on both proposed rules at www.regulations.gov. The comment periods end on April 12, 2021.

Anyone who submits a comment (including duplicate comments) should understand and expect that the comment, including any personal information provided, will become a matter of public record. The division will post comments without change at www.regulations.gov and include any personal information provided. The division posts comments gathered and submitted by a third-party organization as a group, using a single document ID number at the site.

More information about the proposed rules is available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/2021-independent-contractor and at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/2020-joint-employment.

 

Register for my first lecture of 2021.  I am starting with the 2021 Form 941 on Wednesday, March 24th at 10:00 am Pacific.  Use coupon code CJYFRQA6 at checkout to receive a 10% discount.

Department of Labor Roadshow Webinars Are Coming Your Way

The U.S. Department of Labor will host four webinars in June and July to discuss how the Department is helping workers and employers by reducing regulatory burdens and making it easier to understand and comply with the law. The webinars will also provide an opportunity for workers, employers, and state and local governments to ask questions and discuss how the Department can expand and improve access to its compliance assistance materials.

All events will include U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Jonathan Wolfson.

The webinars will be hosted by the Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy and its Office of Compliance Initiatives. Attendance is free, but attendees must pre-register online. If you have questions, please contact Marisela Douglass at douglass.marisela@dol.gov.

The four webinars are:

Agriculture

Guest Speaker: Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton

Tuesday, June 23, 2020, 1:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. EDT

Register at: Compliance Assistance Webinar 1

 

Manufacturing and Construction

Guest Speaker: Occupational Safety and Health Administration Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt

Thursday, June 25, 2020, 1:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. EDT

Register at: Compliance Assistance Webinar 2

 

Food Service, Hospitality, and Retail

Guest Speaker: Employment and Training Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary Amy Simon

Tuesday, June 30, 2020, 1:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. EDT

Register at: Compliance Assistance Webinar 3

 

Health Care and Emergency Responders

Guest Speaker: Employee Benefits Security Administration Acting Assistant Secretary Jeanne Klinefelter Wilson

Wednesday, July 1, 2020, 1:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. EDT

Register at: Compliance Assistance Webinar 4

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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