The “retail or service exemption” to the FLSA, sometimes referred to as the “7(i) exemption”, noting the location where it is codified, 29 U.S.C. Section 207(i), has three requirements. While the first requirement, to pay time and one-half the minimum wage for all hours of work, is straightforward, the other two prongs—that an employee receive 50% of his or her income in the form of “bona fide commissions” and that the individual be employed by a “retail or service establishment”—sometimes lead to litigation. Recently, a district court in Vermont addressed these two prongs as applied to a cable installer. 

In Owopetu v. Nationwide CATV Auditing Servs., Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24948 (D. Vt. Mar. 11, 2011), the court held that a cable installer working for a subcontractor of the cable provider who was paid a percentage of the amount billed to the provider by the subconstractor received bona fide commissions. The court held a bona fide commission existed because his “ability to earn income fluctuated based upon the volume of customer work orders, he was paid a percentage of the value of each service performed, and he was provided performance-based incentives to increase his income.”   The court relied on several cases that have held a compensation system that creates an incentive to work faster and more efficiently is consistent with the existence of a bona fide commission. It was immaterial that the individual was not engaged in sales.

Nevertheless, the court denied summary judgment because the defendant had not produced evidence regarding whether the plaintiff was employed by a “retail or service” establishment. While the company established that it provided services that are not for resale (installation of cable at customer’s homes), which is one requirement need to satisfy the definition of a “retail or service establishment”, no evidence was presented regarding whether the services are “recognized as retail in the industry,” the other requirement.   The Defendant will have to establish that evidence at trial or seek permission to move for summary judgment on a fuller record.