Taking Employees Tips? Not So Fast Says the DOL!

The U.S. Department of labor has announced a final rule that restores the department’s ability to assess civil money penalties against employers who take tips earned by their employees. The rules apply regardless if the violations are willful or not.  The ruling also clarifies specific occasion when a manager or a supervisor can keep tips.  The news release, issued on September 23, 2021 is as follows:

The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a final rule that restores the department’s ability to assess civil money penalties against employers who take tips earned by their employees, regardless of whether those violations are repeated or willful. In addition, today’s rule modifies the department’s broader civil money penalties regulations addressing when a violation is willful, further aligning these regulations with applicable precedent and how the department litigates willfulness. The rule also allows managers and supervisors to contribute to valid tip pooling arrangements, without receiving tips from those pools.

“Workers who depend on tipped wages are every bit as entitled to expect to keep what they’ve earned as other workers,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “An employer who withholds workers’ tips in violation of the law deprives them of that security and, in some cases, leads to workers earning less than the federal minimum wage. This final rule helps us protect their earnings by strengthening tools to hold employers legally responsible for those violations.”

With this rule’s publication, the department withdraws the civil money penalties’ provisions in the 2020 Tip final rule that would have allowed the department to assess these penalties for violations only when employers kept employees’ tips and the department found their violations to be repeated or willful. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 allows the department to impose civil money penalties to $1,100 when employers keep employees’ tips – in violation of the law – regardless of whether violations are repeated or willful.

The final rule also clarifies that – while managers and supervisors may not receive tips from mandatory tip pools or tip-sharing arrangements – managers or supervisors may contribute to mandatory tip pools or sharing arrangements. In addition, the rule clarifies that a manager or supervisor may keep tips only when the manager or supervisor receives tips from customers directly for service a manager or supervisor directly and “solely” provides.

“The final rule announced today strengthens protections for tipped workers – who are largely women, immigrants and people of color – and advances equity in the workplace,” said Wage and Hour Division Acting Administrator Jessica Looman. “Civil money penalties are an incentive for employers to comply with their legal responsibilities. When they do comply, essential workers benefit. When employers don’t comply, these penalties are a useful enforcement tool we can use to help achieve compliance.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers with tipped workers to pay as little as $2.13 per hour in direct wages, while taking a credit against the tips earned by the employee to make up the balance of the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

 

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.

 

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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New DOL Wage and Hour Opinion Letters Have Been Delivered. Let’s Look Inside…

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced on March 14th, that they had released new opinion letters on their website.  These letters address the compliance issues related to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Before we review the new opinion letters for the FLSA, let’s do a quick review of what exactly is an opinion letter.

The Wage and Hour Division issues guidance primarily through Opinion Letters, Ruling Letters, Administrator Interpretations, and Field Assistance Bulletins. They are provided on the DOL website.

An interpretation or ruling issued by the Administrator interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA), or the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act (PCA) is an official ruling or interpretation of the Wage and Hour Division for purposes of the Portal-to-Portal Act. 29 U.S.C. § 259. Such rulings provide a potential good faith reliance defense for actions that may otherwise constitute violations of the FLSA, DBA, or PCA. Prior rulings and interpretations are affected by changes to the applicable statute or regulation so an employer should always periodically review any relevant opinion letters that it uses as a basis for a policy to ensure that changes have not occurred. From time to time the DOL updates its interpretations in response to new information, such as court decisions, and may withdraw a ruling or interpretation in whole or in part.

Now on to the new letters just recently issued.

FLSA2019-1:  This opinion letter clarifies the FLSA wage and recordkeeping requirements for residential janitors and the “good faith” defense. Discusses what to do if the FLSA and state requirements do not match. In this case the state of New York did not consider the employee subject to minimum wage and overtime but the FLSA does.

FLSA2019-2: Addresses the FLSA compliance related to the compensability of time spent participating in an employer-sponsored community service program.

I always encourage employers to use the opinion letters when formulating policy.  If you don’t see an opinion letter that addresses your issue, you may ask for one to be issued on that policy or question by submitting the request online.  Of course, not all requests submitted result in an opinion letter being issued. Or it may be issued but as a non-administrative letter which holds less weight. But it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Reminder: Keep up with the payroll news by subscribing to Vicki’s e-news alerts, Payroll 24/7.  The latest payroll news when you need it, right to your inbox.

With Higher Minimum Wages Can Come Higher Penalties

As my Payroll 24/7 subscribers found out today, Illinois is increasing its minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by the 2025.  But the bill, Senate Bill 1, also increases the penalties for failure to follow

the new requirements.  One of blogs that I follow, Wage & Hour Insights has an excellent post on this very issue.  I urge you to take a moment to read Bill Pokorny’s blog on the new Illinois minimum wage violations penalties, Stiff New Employer Penalties Included in Illinois $15 Minimum Wage Law. It is an excellent source on the new requirements.

Average vs. Weighted Average When It Comes to Calculating Overtime Rates–Another Use for Algebra!

Calculating overtime is always tricky.  What rate is the “regular rate of pay” as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a question that must be answered each time for each calculation.  What can make this even more difficult is when the employee works at more than one rate in the workweek.  What rate do you use for the “regular rate of pay” if the employee has two or more hourly rates during the workweek? Can you simply average the different rates or is something more required?  The Department of Labor recently addressed this situation in Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28, dated December 21, 2018.

Facts of the letter:  The employer in question wanted to determine if their compensation plan, which pays an average hourly rate that may vary from workweek to workweek, complies with the FLSA. It was concerned in both the area of minimum wage and calculating the overtime rate.  The employer pays a different rate for when an employee is working with a client as opposed to when the employee is traveling between clients.  It makes sure that the typical standard rate of pay is $10.00 per hour and if the employee works over 40 hours in any given workweek, they are paid overtime based on the $10.00 rate.

The DOL agreed that the employer followed the minimum wage requirement as the employer is paying well above the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.  However, the problem for the employer is with the rate used to calculate overtime.  According to the letter:

…If the employer always assumes a regular rate of pay of $10 per hour when calculating overtime due, then the employer will not pay all overtime due to employees whose actual regular rate of pay exceeds $10 per hour. 29 C.F.R. § 778.107. Neither an employer nor an employee may arbitrarily choose the regular rate of pay; it is an “actual fact” based on “mathematical computation.” Walling v. Youngerman-Reynolds Hardwood Co., Inc., 325 U.S. 419, 42425 (1945); 29 C.F.R. § 778.108. That said, the compensation plan does comply with the FLSA’s overtime requirements for all employees whose actual regular rates of pay are less than $10 per hour, as an employer may choose to pay an overtime premium in excess of the statutorily required amount.

So what rate should an employer use to calculate the overtime in situations where the employee is working two or more rates within the workweek?  The rate is determined by what is known as a “weighted average” not an average of the rates. The DOL addresses this method in Fact Sheet #23: Overtime Pay Requirements of the FLSAIt reads as follows:

…Where an employee in a single workweek works at two or more different types of work for which different straight-time rates have been established, the regular rate for that week is the weighted average of such rates. That is, the earnings from all such rates are added together and this total is then divided by the total number of hours worked at all jobs. In addition, section 7(g)(2) of the FLSA allows, under specified conditions, the computation of overtime pay based on one and one-half times the hourly rate in effect when the overtime work is performed. The requirements for computing overtime pay pursuant to section 7(g)(2) are prescribed in 29 CFR 778.415 through 778.421.

Here is an example of a weighted average calculation: The employee has worked the following hours at the following rates for the workweek:

Step 1: To determine the weighted average the following calculations would be required:

Step 2: Divide the total earnings by the total hours worked to determine the regular rate of pay

$475.75 divided by 43 = $11.06 (regular rate of pay)

Step 3: Determine the premium pay for overtime by multiplying the regular rate of pay by .5 (or divide by 2) then multiplying that amount by the number of overtime hours

$11.06 x .5 x 3 = $16.59

Step 4: Determine the total weekly compensation by adding the total earnings (step 1) and the premium pay (step 3): $475.75 + $16.59 = $492.34.  $492.34 is the total weekly compensation.

In closing, it must be remembered that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the regular rate of pay used for overtime calculations is the correct one.

 

FLSA Video Training Has Arrived at DOL/WHD

The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is launching a new series of brief, plain-language videos to help employers understand their legal obligations when it comes to calculating overtime etc.  According the the WHD website these videos “strip away the legalese and provide employers with basic information…”  The topics provided so far are:

  • Coverage: Does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apply to my business?
  • Minimum Wage: What minimum wage requirements apply to my business?
  • Deductions: Can I charge my employees for uniforms or other business expenses?
  • Hours Worked: Do I have to Pay for that time?
  • Overtime: When do I owe overtime compensation and how do I pay it correctly?

The videos are very well done and cover the rules quite nicely.  For example the overtime video does go into all the calculations needed for regular rate of pay.  They last an average of seven or eight minutes each. If you are looking for a good basic training on these topics listed check out the videos from WHD.

ALEC Wins Another State Over!

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or as it is commonly known ALEC, according to their website, is “America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislatures dedicated to the principles of limited government”.  It’s current legislative agenda is to try to stop increases in the minimum wage and the mandatory sick leave movement as it sees it as having a negative effect on workers.  But in order to keep the minimum wage low or as ALEC describes it; “Maximizing the freedom of businesses and employees to negotiate their own wages” they not only have to convince state legislatures not to raise the minimum wage or provide mandated sick leave, but have to convince all local governments as well.  This is a tough job as there are thousands of local entities such as cities and counties that could decide to raise the minimum wage or enforce mandatory sick leave.  So ALEC takes the approach to tackle this from the head down by convincing state legislatures that they need to pass laws that prohibit any local entity from passing any type of minimum wage or benefit increase that does not equal the state level.  At this task they are making headway.  The latest state to buy into ALEC and bar local governments from passing a minimum wage or benefits ordinance is Wisconsin.

New legislation, A748,  prohibits counties, cities, and towns from enacting ordinances that: (1) establish or mandate local hour and overtime requirements, including scheduling employee work hours or shifts; and (2) require employers to provide employment benefits, including a retirement, pension, profit sharing, insurance, or leave benefit. The legislation does allow prospective employers to solicit salary information from previous employers and preempts counties, cities, and towns from prohibiting such solicitation.  The bill is effective as of March 30, 2018.

EPI Report Shows Employers Steal Up to $8 Billion From Employees’ Wages Annually

A report released on May 10, 2017 by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) assesses the prevalence and magnitude of one form of wage theft—minimum wage violations. Minimum wage violations is defined in the report as paying a worker an effective hourly rate that is below the legal or binding minimum wage, either state or federal law. The report looked at the 10 most populous U.S. states: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. These states were chosen to limit the focus of the report so EPI could carefully account for each state’s individual minimum wage policies and state-specific exemptions to wage and hour laws. Two of the states chosen, California and New York, actually have anti-wage theft laws on the books. The data for these states provides adequate ample sizes and the total workforce in these states accounts for more than half of the entire U.S. workforce. The results of the study are a bit alarming even if you take into account that the measuring of wage theft is challenging and suitable public data sources are limited. The key findings of the report are that:

  • In the 10 most populous states in the country, each year 2.4 million workers covered by state or federal minimum wage laws report being paid less than the applicable minimum wage in their state—approximately 17 percent of the eligible low-wage workforce.
  • The total underpayment of wages to these workers amounts to over $8 billion annually. If the findings for these states are representative for the rest of the country, they suggest that the total wages stolen from workers due to minimum wage violations exceeds $15 billion each year.
  • Workers suffering minimum wage violations are underpaid an average of $64 per week, nearly one-quarter of their weekly earnings. This means that a victim who works year-round is losing, on average, $3,300 per year and receiving only $10,500 in annual wages.
  • Young workers, women, people of color, and immigrant workers are more likely than other workers to report being paid less than the minimum wage, but this is primarily because they are also more likely than other workers to be in low-wage jobs. In general, low-wage workers experience minimum wage violations at high rates across demographic categories. In fact, the majority of workers with reported wages below the minimum wage are over 25 and are native-born U.S. citizens, nearly half are white, more than a quarter have children, and just over half work full time.
  • In the 10 most populous states, workers are most likely to be paid less than the minimum wage in Florida (7.3 percent), Ohio (5.5 percent), and New York (5.0 percent). However, the severity of underpayment is the worst in Pennsylvania and Texas, where the average victim of a minimum wage violation is cheated out of over 30 percent of earned pay.
  • The poverty rate among workers paid less than the minimum wage in these 10 states is over 21 percent—three times the poverty rate for minimum-wage-eligible workers overall. Assuming no change in work hours, if these workers were paid the full wages to which they are entitled, less than 15 percent would be in poverty.

The report gives a full explanation of the background and previous research into the problems.

EPI report

 

Is Private Sector Comp Time Finally Here? And Is It a Good Idea in the First Place?

This week the House of Representatives passed The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, H. R. 1180. The purpose of this bill is to amend The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to allow employees to receive compensatory time off instead of payment for overtime worked for employees working in the private sector. It sponsors say that this gives employees in the private sector the same flexibility that employees in the public sector have enjoyed for a number of years. In essence, being able to choose between being paid for overtime or getting time off at a later date. I have not yet made a decision on this bill as to whether or not I support it. It has good points but it also has a lot of flaws.

First the good points:

  • the bill does require that the employee agree to, in writing, receive comp time instead of being paid for the overtime worked. If the employee would prefer to be paid over time then they have to be paid overtime, at least in theory.
  • The bill also requires that the employee be given opportunity to take the comp time when requested, as long as it does not interfere with business operations.
  • The bill does require that the employee be cashed out upon termination, voluntary or involuntary, or at the end of a 12 month period. This in theory prevents overtime from never being paid.
  • The bill permits an employee to opt out after agreeing in writing to be paid compensatory time and does not permit compensatory time to be as a condition of employment.
  • The bill does not allow new employees to be forced to take compensatory time instead of overtime. The employee must work at least 1000 hours for the employer before they can agree to be pay compensatory time.
  • The bill sunsets after five years and requires after two years that the GAO submit a report outlining whether or not there were complaints alleging violation of the rules made to the Secretary of Labor or the Department of Labor. It requires an accounting of any unpaid wages, damages, penalties, injunctive relief, or any other remedies that were obtained or sought by the Secretary Of Labor.

However there are flaws:

  • first the premise that public sector employees “enjoy” the privilege of compensatory time in lieu of overtime. Public sector employees did not come under the FLSA until 1985 when it was mandated by a court decision. Private-sector employees have been under the FLSA since 1938. The only reason the comp time in lieu of overtime was permitted is because it was written into many cities, counties and states requirements because they were spending public money. It was never something that was negotiated or requested by the employees themselves.
  • Many studies in the United States show that employees tend not to take all of the vacation they are due because they can’t get the time off from their employers. So my question is if they can’t get time off to take vacation that has been given them how will they be able to take off using compensatory time? Especially when the bill does not state that they must be given the comp time when requested but only if it does not interfere with business operations. And how many of us have not been able to take our vacation because our boss says I can’t give you the time off right now.
  • If not able to take the time off due to business operations then what’s the purpose of having comp time except to delay paying the employee overtime that was rightfully do. I understand that taking time off does affect business operations and if I’m requesting vacation I can understand that my boss can say not at this time. Because in essence vacation is not something that I actually worked for, but a benefit my boss is offering me. But compensatory time off is not the same as vacation although this bill seems to treat it that way. This is money that I’ve already worked for and am already due. It is not a benefit that my boss gets to allow me to take at his or her convenience.
  • My biggest problem with this bill is the fact that even though it says that the GAO will present a study on whether or not there were violations the fact is that the Labor Department collects hundreds of millions of dollars each year for violation of simple minimum wage and overtime rules. These rules have been in effect since 1938 and yet employers still violate them on a regular basis. Is this just adding one more area that employees will have to sue their employers through the DOL to get their money? Especially lower paid or minimum wage employees. Is this one more thing the employee will have to be aware of and make sure they are being paid properly?

Compensatory time off bills have passed the house many times in the past but have never gone past the Senate, usually dying in committee. But these are not normal times so we will have to wait and see.

 

What do you think? Take our poll. Are you for or against The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017? [polldaddy poll=9738707]