The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay non-exempt employees one and one half times their regular rate of pay for any hours worked in a workweek in excess of 40. United States Department of Labor regulations, as set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a), allow an employer to utilize the fluctuating workweek (“FWW”) method of overtime payment. Pursuant to FWW, in determining overtime due, an employer divides the weekly wage by the total number of hours worked during the week and then pays additional half-time for overtime hours. The more overtime hours worked, the lower the regular rate of pay and the overtime due for each overtime hour. 

One would think that if a salaried employee is found to have been misclassified as non-exempt, this same formula should be applied in determining any overtime due. However, while the federal appellate courts have applies such formula, some district courts have taken the position that any overtime must be calculated by dividing the salary by 40 to determine the regular rate and paying 1.5 times the regular rate for all overtime hours. The difference in calculations can be significant as demonstrated by the following examples.

SALARY: $1,000


Half-time calculation (FWW): $1000/50 hours = $20/hour regular rate of pay/2 = $10 times 10 overtime hours -=$100 due

Time-and-a-half calculation: $1000/40 hours = $25/hour regular rate of pay X 1.5 = $37.50 times 10 overtime hours = $375 due

The difference between the amounts of overtime due under these two calculation methods is always at least three-fold. As the number of hours in the workweek increases, the spread between the two methods grows.

Earlier this week, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit endorsed the first FWW-type calculation. See Urnikis-Negro v. Am. Family Prop. Servs., — F.3d. —, No. 08-3117, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 16126 (7th Cir. 2010).  In finding this method of overtime calculation appropriate, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s determination that the parties “had a ‘clear and mutual understanding’ that [the employee’s] weekly salary of $1,000 was meant to compensate her for however many hours she worked, not 40 or some other number.”  Id. at *18.  Notably, in reaching this conclusion, the Seventh Circuit referred to an article published by Jackson Lewis partner Paul DeCamp (head of the Firm’s Wage and Hour Practice Group and former Wage and Hour Administrator for the United States Department of Labor) and associate Jacqueline C. Tully, Half-Time or Time and a Half? Calculating Overtime in Misclassification Cases, 278 Fair Lab. Stds. Handbook for States, Local Gov’t & Sch. Newsl. 3 (Nov. 2008). The Court specifically relied on this article for the proposition that the “proper focus in calculating [the] regular rate of pay for [a] misclassified employee is on whether [the] parties intended [a] fixed salary to compensate [an] employee for all hours worked in [a] work-week or solely for [the] first 40 hours.”  Id. at *45. 

The employee argued that “use of the more employer-friendly FWW method gives employers an incentive to misclassify employees as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements or otherwise withhold overtime pay, as they will be little the worse off if and when sued to enforce the statute’s requirements.”  Id. at *55.  In response, the Seventh Circuit stated that the district court awarded liquidated damages, attorney’s fees and costs to the employee, thereby causing the employer to endure penalties for miscategorizing her as an exempt employee.

As with many other wage and hour issues, courts have not been fully consistent even when determining the regular rate is based on salary divided by total hours worked. Some courts have taken the position that time and a half the regular rate is due for all hours over 40 and not just additional half time. Further confusing the issue, some of these courts divide the salary by 40 hours to determine the regular rate, while others still use the total hours worked. These calculations are not supported by regulation but generally based on the court’s view of the equities. 

While this issue may ultimately need to be resolved by the Supreme Court, this is a helpful decision for employers, especially those within the Seventh Circuit. It also reminds employers to reiterate to all salaried employees that their salary covers all hours worked. The Court’s reference to the article published by Jackson Lewis attorneys also demonstrates that the Firm is at the forefront of legal analysis and theory in the wage and hour arena, the forum that continues to pose the highest level of risk related to workplace compliance.