Wisconsin Legislature Preempts Local Enactment of Wage and Hour Regulations

Joining more than two dozen other states that have barred local enactment of minimum wage or other employment laws, on March 22, 2018 the Wisconsin legislature passed Assembly Bill 748, intended to promote statewide uniformity in the regulation of employment practices. AB 748 prevents local governments and municipalities from enacting and enforcing their own ordinances relating to various employment matters, including several areas pertaining to wage and hour law.  Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign the Bill into law in the near future.  In addition to precluding local counties and municipalities from enacting ordinances regulating “labor peace” agreements, requiring more stringent occupational licensing, or mandating employer provision of pension or other benefits, AB 748 prohibits local jurisdictions from enacting laws:

  • Regarding employee work hours and overtime, including shift schedules.  However, certain ordinances regulating business operating hours or the work hours of certain traveling sales  crew workers are excluded;
  • Prohibiting employers from requesting salary history information from prospective employees;
  • Establishing minimum wages for local government employees, contract employees or employee work that is funded by financial assistance from the local governmental unit.  This provision supplements existing Wisconsin law, passed more than a decade ago, prohibiting local jurisdictions from enacting minimum wage laws related to private employers; or
  • Regulating “wage claims or collections.”  Investigation of disputes regarding such claims will remain the purview of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Notably, in a last-minute amendment to the Bill, local counties and municipalities will not be precluded from enacting and enforcing employment discrimination laws that provide greater protection than those provided under Wisconsin law.

For more information on AB 748 or any other wage and hour issue, please contact the Jackson Lewis attorney(s) with whom you regularly work.

California Supreme Court Adopts State Agency Formula for Calculating Overtime Value of Flat-Sum Bonus, Rejecting Federal View

The California Supreme Court has held that, under state law, when an employee earns a flat-sum bonus during a pay period, the overtime pay rate will be calculated using the actual number of non-overtime hours worked by the employee during the pay period. Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp., 2018 Cal. LEXIS 1123 (Cal. Mar. 5, 2018).

In so holding, the Court reversed a lower court of appeal decision that had rejected policy guidance issued by the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). Please find the rest of this article in our Publications page here

U.S. Department of Labor Announces Self-Audit Program

Mistakes happen.  But when those mistakes result in a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, what is an employer to do?  Pay twice the amount of wages owed to cover both back wages and an amount equal to liquidated damages? Hope no one notices?  Well, thanks to the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the DOL, another option is now available to provide “make whole” relief to the employees and a binding release of FLSA claims for the employer, without the agency penalties and without the liquidated damages that may provide nothing more than a windfall to employees who have received all wages due.   The WHD has announced a new pilot program designed to encourage employer self-reporting of potential minimum wage and overtime violations.  Under the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (“PAID”) program, an employer who uncovers potential wage violations during a self-audit may voluntarily report those findings to the WHD, which will work with the employer to pay any wages due to employees without the additional risk of the penalties or liquidated damages the agency might impose were it to initiate the audit.  The WHD intends to operate the program for approximately six months and then undertake an assessment of its effectiveness.

Under the PAID program, if an employer discovers any non-compliant, or even questionable, minimum wage or overtime practices (including, for example, misapplication of the “white collar” or other exemptions), it can provide to the WHD the identity of the affected employee(s), the relevant timeframe and a calculation of the wages owed.   The WHD may agree with the employer’s determinations or may arrive at its own calculations, after which it will notify the affected employees and provide them with a summary of the wages owed and the settlement terms.  If the employee executes the settlement agreement, the employer will have to pay the wages due no later than the next regular pay period.

While the intent of the PAID program is to resolve potential wage and hour claims more expediently – with less financial cost to employers than if the same issues were uncovered during an agency audit and with faster payment of the wages to the affected employees –  participation in the program is not without risks to employers.  Many employers are wary of proactively contacting a federal agency with the admission of an error.  Employees are also not obligated to accept the proposed settlement terms simply because the WHD has endorsed them.  An employee, for example, might consult his or her own attorney, resulting in an increased, rather than decreased, prospect of litigation.  That risk is magnified if a significant number of employees are implicated, as the possibility of a viable collective or class action likely would bolster the interest of a plaintiff’s attorney.

In addition, because any settlement will be limited to the potential wage violations and timeframe at issue, the employer will not have the opportunity to obtain a general waiver and release as part of the settlement terms.  Notably, employers may not use the PAID program to resolve issues already being investigated by the WHD; that already are the subject of litigation or arbitration (whether actual or threatened); or about which the employer already has been contacted by an employee’s attorney or other representative to settle.

Nevertheless, in industries that currently are, or routinely have been, the focus of WHD audits, or for companies that already have identified substantial wage and hour risks in their workplace, the PAID program provides an option to employers to address and resolve wage and hour compliance issues without fear of the substantial penalties and liquidated damages ensuing from an agency-initiated audit.

Jackson Lewis will continue to monitor the PAID program as the DOL provides additional information.  If you have any questions about this or any other wage and hour issue, please consult the Jackson Lewis attorney(s) with whom you regularly work.

Pennsylvania Governor Seeks to Expand Overtime Pay to Currently Exempt Employees

Frustrated by years of unsuccessful efforts to raise the minimum wage through the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, and in response to the recent federal court invalidation of the Obama-era DOL’s rule that would have doubled the minimum salary requirement for the executive, administrative and professional exemptions (i.e. the “white collar” exemptions) under the FLSA, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has proposed an increase in the minimum salary under corresponding state regulations for employees to satisfy the white collar exemptions.  Under current state law, the minimum salary requirement for these exemptions is only $250 per week, meaning that it has no practical impact, as the minimum salary requirement under the FLSA is $455 week or $23,660 a year.

A change to the state regulations would require approval only by a five-member board that currently has a Democratic majority (including the Governor himself), effectively bypassing the Republican legislature.  Under the proposal the first salary increase, to $31,720 per year, would be implemented in 2020.  Subsequent increases the following two years would raise the minimum salary threshold to nearly $48,000 by 2022.  While the approval process could take more than a year, if enacted the impact is expected to be monumental, affecting approximately 460,000 currently exempt workers in Pennsylvania.  Should these changes take place, Pennsylvania would join other states, such as New York and California, which have implemented a minimum salary requirement for the white collar exemptions exceeding that required by the FLSA.

Jackson Lewis will continue to monitor the status of the proposed regulation. If you have any questions on how the proposal impacts your current workforce or any other wage and hour questions, please contact the Jackson Lewis attorney(s) with whom you work.

Supreme Court (Re)hears Oral Argument on Application of Automobile Dealer Exemption to Service Advisors

Last week the Supreme Court heard – for the second time – oral argument in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro.  At issue is whether “service advisors” at dealerships are covered by what’s known as the “automobile dealer” exemption set forth in Section 213(b)(10)(A) of the FLSA.  That exemption excludes from overtime any “salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles.”  Salesmen who sell cars are covered, as are the mechanics who service them.  But are service advisors (those who sell services and act as the liaison between the customer and mechanic) “primarily engaged in” selling or servicing automobiles?

A little history first.  The 213(b)(10)(A) exemption was enacted in 1966.  In 1970, the DOL issued a regulation stating service advisers were not covered by the exemption and, therefore, were eligible for overtime pay.  Several courts, including the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and a number of district courts, however, disagreed and refused to follow the DOL regulation.  As a result, in 1978 the DOL abandoned the regulation in an opinion letter and stated that service advisors are covered by the exemption.  Both the DOL and the courts applied the exemption to service advisors for more than 30 years.  In 2011, however, when a Bush-era regulation finally codifying the exemption was proposed, the DOL, now under the Obama Administration, reversed course, issuing a final rule returning to its 1970 position that service advisors are not covered by the exemption and thus are eligible for overtime pay.  Despite the fact that the final rule offered little explanation for the dramatic change in position, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals deferred to the DOL’s final rule when the issue first came before it in Encino Motors in 2015.

In 2016, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision, concluding that the Court of Appeals erred in deferring to the DOL regulation because the DOL provided no reasoned explanation for its change in position.  The Supreme Court did not resolve, however, the merits of the issue.   Rather, the Court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for it to determine in the first instance whether the exemption applied to service advisors, without reference to the DOL’s regulation.  On remand, the Ninth Circuit reached the same result (service advisors are not exempt), albeit relying instead on a detailed examination of the statutory text and legislative history of the exemption.   So, the case came back to the Supreme Court to review that decision:  whether service advisors are exempt under the 213(b)(10)(A) exemption.

The defendant automobile dealership argues that service advisors are “salesmen” primarily “engaged in servicing” automobiles because the definition of “servicing” or “engaged in” is broad enough to cover not only those doing the actual repair work but those involved in providing the overall service.  Plaintiffs argue this is a stretch and that interpreting the statute this way leads to an unnatural reading of the statute.

So what did the recent oral argument reveal? That it’s probably a close decision, along the usual philosophical lines.  While Justices Kagan, Breyer, Ginsburg and Sotomayor appear to be against extending the exemption to service advisors, Chief Justice Roberts seemed to accept the notion that service advisors can be “engaged in” the servicing of automobiles even though they do not perform the actual repairs.  Justices Alito and Thomas previously asserted, in their dissents in the Court’s 2016 remand opinion, that service advisors satisfied the exemption.  That means the decision may come down to Justice Kennedy (as it often does in close decisions) and newly-arrived Justice Gorsuch.

The decision may require a lengthy lesson on grammar  to answer the precise question (the statute was not well drafted) and even grammarians might disagree.   But the case could have broader implications if the Court addresses another issue dangling on the periphery of the case:  the viability of the so-called “narrow construction” principle, i.e. the assertion that exemptions should be narrowly construed against the employer and applied only when they do so plainly and unmistakably.  The Ninth Circuit historically has relied on this canon and did so again on remand in ruling in favor of the employees.  But the defendants have asked the Court to cast this so-called rule of construction aside, a canon it has not cited in its last few cases addressing the FLSA.  And if the Court does address it, the decision could have positive, wide-ranging implications for employers when courts subsequently analyze other exemptions under the FLSA.  Only Justice Gorsuch mentioned the canon during the oral argument.

Stay tuned….

It’s Cut and Dry: Ninth Circuit Adopts “Primary Beneficiary” Analysis, Concludes Cosmetology and Hair Design Students Were Interns, Not Employees

Former students at a cosmetology and hair design school with locations in California and Nevada were interns and not employees entitled to wages under the FLSA or state law, the Ninth Circuit has held.  Benjamin v. B&H Education, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 25672 (9th Cir. Dec. 19, 2017).  In so concluding, the Ninth Circuit adopted the non-exhaustive, multi-factor “primary beneficiary” test established by the Second Circuit in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., 811 F.3d 528 (2nd Cir. 2016) (discussed at length here], concluding that this test “best captures the Supreme Court’s economic realities test in the student/employee context and that it is therefore the most appropriate test for deciding whether students should be regarded as employees under the FLSA.”

In applying the factors set forth in Glatt, the Ninth Circuit found that each of the seven enumerated factors supported a determination that the plaintiffs were the “primary beneficiaries” of their time spent in the clinical settings required for licensure by the respective states – and therefore were not employees – despite the fact that the school derived some income from individuals receiving the salon services.  Those factors included an acknowledgment by the students that they would not be paid for their clinical services; they received hands-on training and academic credit for their efforts; their clinical work was coordinated with their academic schedules; the clinical work satisfied the practical hours required prior to taking state licensing exams and ended once a sufficient number of such hours was achieved; they did not displace paid employees of the school; and they had no expectation of employment with the school after graduation.

Finally, the Court of Appeals likewise held that the students were not employees with respect to claims under California or Nevada law.  While Nevada’s definition of “employee” mirrors that of the FLSA, and therefore made for an easy dismissal of claims under that state’s law, California’s definition focuses on the employer’s “right of control” of an individual’s wages under the applicable wage order.  Nevertheless, the Ninth Circuit concluded that “the California Supreme Court would have no reason to look to the wage order definition” because the plaintiffs “were never hired by any entity as an employee. They are not entitled to be paid any wages.”  Thus, the “right of control” analysis is inappropriate in such a school setting, the Court of Appeals held.  Rather, it opined that the California Supreme Court “would instead apply a test more similar to the FLSA primary beneficiary test” because it “is better adapted to an occupational training setting than the [more rigid] DOL factors [rejected in Glatt].”

With its decision in Benjamin, the Ninth Circuit joins not only the Second Circuit in adopting the “primary beneficiary” analysis, but the Eleventh Circuit as well, which adopted the analysis in Schumann v. Collier Anesthesia, P.A., 803 F.3d 1199 (11th Cir. 2015). By contrast, in a recent case with facts substantially similar to those of Benjamin, the Seventh Circuit rejected the DOL’s approach but declined to adopt any particular test. Hollins v Regency Corp., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 15076 (7th Cir. Aug. 14, 2017) (discussed here).

Benjamin provides additional support and guidance to employers assessing an existing or contemplated internship program. If you have any questions about internships or other wage and hour issues, please contact the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you work.

Hearst Interns Were “Primary Beneficiaries” of Program and Not Employees, Second Circuit Affirms

Several former interns of the Hearst Corporation, one of the world’s largest magazine publishers, were just that: unpaid interns, not employees entitled to minimum wage or overtime under the FLSA, the Second Circuit has held.  Wang v. Hearst Corp., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 24789 (2nd Cir. Dec. 8, 2017).  The Second Circuit has jurisdiction over New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Each of the five plaintiffs worked at one of Hearst’s magazines in an unpaid internship.  It was undisputed that there was no promise or other expectation of compensation during or subsequent full-time employment following these internships, and each internship required its participants to receive pre-approval for college credit, although ultimately not all of the plaintiffs received such credit.  Each of the plaintiffs also admitted that as part of their internship, they performed tasks and gained valuable experience related to their professional pursuits, primarily in the journalism or fashion industries, but argued many of the tasks they performed were menial, did not advance their degrees and displaced the work of paid employees.

In concluding that the summary judgment record established that these individuals were indeed interns and not employees, the Court of Appeals reviewed the “totality of the circumstances” of the plaintiffs’ internships, in light of the multi-factor analysis it set forth last year in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., 811 F.3d 528 (2d Cir. 2016).  Those non-exhaustive factors include:

(1)        the extent to which the intern and employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation;

(2)        the extent to which the internship provides training similar to that given in an education environment, including clinical or other hands-on training;

(3)        the extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program through integrated coursework or credit;

(4)        the extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic calendar;

(5)        the extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning;

(6)        the extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, that of paid employees; and

(7)        the extent to which the intern and employer understand that there is no entitlement to employment following the internship.

In Wang, Factors 1 and 7 were not in dispute.  Noting that its opinion in Glatt expressly included vocational benefits and “practical skill development in a real-world setting,” the Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the internship was not in an “education environment” as set forth in Factor 2, as well as the plaintiffs’ argument that because they already possessed some of the skills they used during the internship, they were not receiving “beneficial” learning, as required by Factor 5.  As to Factor 3, the internships of all but one of the plaintiffs occurred around, and in coordination with, their academic calendars, and the remaining plaintiff intentionally postponed beginning graduate school to undertake the internship following college graduation.  That the internship included a requirement to earn credit “generally is more telling than whether credit was actually rewarded in that individual’s case,” noted the Second Circuit.  Similarly, with respect to Factor 4, the Court of Appeals noted that Hearst accommodated the plaintiffs’ academic schedules when such a schedule existed.

Finally, as to Factor 6, the Court of Appeals agreed that the fact the interns completed some work otherwise performed by paid employees weighed in their favor but noted that this factor is not dispositive.  Reiterating its rejection in Glatt of the DOL’s position that conferral of tangible benefits on the employer mandates the finding of an employer-employee relationship, the Second Circuit added that “[it] is no longer a problem [in classifying an individual as an intern] that an intern was useful or productive.”

Wang provides further practical guidance to employers who have implemented, or are contemplating the implementation of, an internship program, and the potential for such interns to be deemed employees entitled to FLSA protections.  Those fashioning unpaid internship programs should benchmark them against this and other appellate guidance.

If you have any questions about internships or other wage and hour issues, please contact the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you work.

Second Circuit Makes it Official (Again): FLSA Claims are Subject to Arbitration

Stating unequivocally what it previously had assumed, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that FLSA claims are arbitrable, notwithstanding the requirement that FLSA litigation settlements be “supervised.”  Rodriguez-Depena v. Parts Authority Inc., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 24995 (2nd Cir. Dec. 12, 2017).  The Second Circuit had in recent years addressed various issues surrounding the arbitrability of FLSA claims, such as whether a class (collective) action waiver in an arbitration provision rendered the provision unenforceable as a matter of law (to which this Court of Appeals responded “no,” but which issue currently is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court due to a circuit split), implicitly confirming that FLSA claims could be subject to arbitration agreements.  However, the Second Circuit had neither formally, expressly held that FLSA claims are arbitrable, nor expressly rejected the position that the its decision in Cheeks v. Freeport Pancake House, Inc., 796 F.3d 199 (2nd Cir. 2015), requiring judicial scrutiny of FLSA settlements, impacted the arbitrability of such claims.  Until now.

Among the arguments made by the plaintiff in Rodriguez-Depena, in asserting that his FLSA claims were not subject to arbitration, was the contention that the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Cheeks, requiring judicial oversight and approval of litigation settlements involving FLSA claims, implied that the supervision requirement was intended to override forum selection clauses such as arbitration agreements.  Quickly rejecting that assertion, the Court of Appeals noted that “[t]he rationale of Cheeks . . . is assurance of the fairness of a settlement of a claim filed in court, not a guarantee of a judicial forum.”  Thus, with respect to individual FLSA claims, and at least until the Supreme Court’s decision is rendered with respect to collective action claims, employers in the Second Circuit who have implemented, or contemplate implementing, an arbitration provision for their employees may rest assured that, generally speaking, such a provision will be enforceable as to FLSA claims.

If you have a question about this or any other wage and hour question, please consult the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work.

Governor Cuomo Contemplating Elimination of Tip Credit

Employers in New York currently are permitted to pay tipped workers a direct cash wage that is below the State minimum wage and take a “credit” for some of the tips received by employees to satisfy the difference between the cash wage paid and the full minimum wage.  For example, in New York City beginning in 2018, servers for large employers (those with 11 or more employees) may pay servers a direct wage of $8.65 per hour and take a $4.35 per hour credit for tips received by employees (so long as the employees receive at least $4.35 per hour in tips).  Combining the two equals the 2018 NYC minimum wage rate for large employers, $13.00.  But all of that may be coming to an end if New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gets his way.  Today, Governor Cuomo announced that, as part of his upcoming State of the State address, he plans to direct the New York Department of Labor (NYDOL) to schedule public hearings to evaluate the possibility of ending minimum wage tip credits in the State.  This is not the first such challenge to the continued use of the tip credit.

If this change is made, tipped workers will have a big boost to their income and employers a big blow to their bottom line. Employers will be required to pay servers and other tipped employees the full minimum wage and such “front of the house” workers also will be entitled to keep the tips they receive on top of the direct wage.  Such a move will widen the already large gap between the front of the house workers (e.g. servers) and “back of the house” employees (e.g. cooks) who, under New York law, do not and cannot receive any tips.  Notably, the federal DOL has issued proposed regulations that would permit employers who do not take tip credit to share tips with employees in the kitchen to address the income inequality.  But without some other change to NY law expanding the group of employees permitted to share tips, service staff would get to keep it all, on top of their proposed wage increase, as the elimination of the credit is, in effect, a substantial wage increase.

In reaction to the increased labor costs imposed on business by the rising minimum wage and shrinking tip credits, some restaurants have eliminated tipping altogether, a trend that might accelerate if tip credits are eliminated.  Those who oppose tip credits argue that tips no longer serve as a bonus for good service, but instead often only bring the workers’ wages up to the legal minimum.  Governor Cuomo’s announcement also points to studies that show African-American employees often are tipped less than their white co-workers and that workplaces using the tip credit have a higher rate of sexual harassment.

As it recently did with respect to predictive scheduling, the NYDOL will hold public hearings to solicit input from workers, businesses and other interested parties, and likely will receive testimony from pro-employee and pro-employer groups.  An eventual decision by the NYDOL to eliminate the tip credit would have a significant impact on those industries where employees rely heavily on tips.

Please contact Jackson Lewis with any questions about tip credits or any other wage and hour compliance issue.

Toll Road Ahead: Fourth Circuit Rules Mixed-Fleet Interstate Truck Drivers May Be Entitled to Overtime Pay

Despite the overtime exemption provided by the Motor Carrier Act, interstate trucking employers who operate “mixed fleets” – those with vehicles both over and under 10,000 pounds – may owe overtime pay to drivers of the smaller vehicles, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled.  Schilling v. Schmidt Baking Co., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 23257 (4th Cir. Nov. 17, 2017).  The Fourth Circuit has jurisdiction over Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Generally, the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”) exemption excludes from the FLSA’s overtime pay obligations any employee over whom the Secretary of Transportation has the power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service.  In 2008 Congress enacted the Technical Corrections Act (“TCA”), excepting from the MCA exemption (i.e. making eligible for overtime pay) most individuals employed by a motor carrier or motor private carrier whose work “in whole or in part” affects the safe operation of motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less on public highways in interstate commerce.  However, Congress did not define the phrase “in whole or in part” and over the ensuing years trial courts generally fell into two camps when applying the phrase:  (1)  if the driver spends more than a “de minimis” amount of time driving smaller vehicles, then the TCA exception applies and the driver is entitled to overtime pay; or (2) if the driver spends any meaningful amount of time driving larger vehicles, then the TCA exception does not apply and the driver is exempt from overtime pay.  The DOL has taken an even more employee-friendly position, issuing guidance stating that a driver is entitled to overtime for any week in which he spends any time driving a vehicle weighing 10,000 or less pounds.

In 2015, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (with jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands) addressed the issue head-on in McMasters v. Eastern Armored Services, Inc., 780 F.3d 167 (3rd Cir. 2015).  In that case the Third Circuit, while noting the fact that Congress failed to define “in whole or in part,” concluded that regardless of what the phrase means at its minimum, it certainly includes drivers who spend half of their time driving the smaller vehicles (which essentially was the case in McMasters).  Agreeing that this was the proper analysis, in Schilling the Fourth Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ overtime claims under the MCA exemption, similarly concluding that where, as was the case here, the drivers allegedly spent 70% to 90% of their time driving smaller vehicles, the TCA exception would apply and the drivers would be entitled to overtime.

In light of Schilling and McMasters, interstate trucking employers who operate mixed fleets must be careful not to assume that the MCA exemption will automatically preclude their drivers from eligibility for overtime and consider whether there are practical ways to minimize their risk of overtime claims.  Moreover, such employers must consider any applicable state law, as not all states have adopted the MCA exemption (or the TCA exception in those that have).

If you have any questions about the MCA or other exemptions under the FLSA, or any other wage and hour issues, please contact the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you work.

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