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DOL Publishes New FLSA Rules, Rejecting Pro-Employer Changes to Fluctuating Workweek and Comp Time, Clarifying Tip Credit Rules

On April 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) published its updates to its interpretative regulations regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the Federal Register.  to go into effect 30 days later.  The Updating Regulations, revise out of date CFR regulations. Specifically, these revisions conform the regulations to FLSA amendments passed in 1974, 1977, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2007, and Portal Act amendments passed in 1996.

As noted by several commentators, the final regulations are noteworthy for what was not included as much as for what was.  Below is a brief description of the most significant changes and those changes originally proposed, that were not adopted:

Fluctuating Workweek Under 29 C.F.R. §778.114

The proposed regulations issued by DOL in 2008 under the Bush administration (73 Fed. Reg. 43654) would have amended regulations on the “fluctuating workweek” method of calculating overtime pay for nonexempt employees who have agreed to received pay in the form of fixed weekly payments rather than in the form of an hourly wage.  The proposed regulations would have amended 29 C.F.R. §778.114 to permit payments of non-overtime bonuses and incentives (such as shift differentials) “without invalidating the guaranteed salary criterion required for the half-time overtime pay computation.”  The DOL left out this proposed change from the final rules however, saying it had “concluded that unless such payments are overtime premiums, they are incompatible with the fluctuating workweek method of computing overtime.”  Explaining the decision not to amend the FWW reg, the DOL noted that “several commenters … noted that the proposal would permit employers to reduce employees’ fixed weekly salaries and shift the bulk of the employees’ wages to bonus and premium pay” contra to the FLSA’s intent.  The DOL’s decision to decline the proposed amendment is consistent with virtually all case law on this issue, as discussed here and here.

Tipped Employees

The DOL has also decided to revise the proposed regulations’ interpretation of Congress’ 1974 amendment, section 3(m) of the FLSA, to require advance notice to tipped employees of information about the tip credit the employer is permitted to take based on its employees’ tips.  The final rule combines existing regulatory provisions to assure such employees are notified of the employer’s use of the tip credit, and how the employer calculates it.  This regulation too is consistent with case law on the subject, requiring advanced notice of the tip credit.

Compensatory Time

The final rules also do not include a proposed change that would have allowed public-sector employers to grant employees compensatory time requested “within a reasonable period” of the request, instead of on the specific dates requested. Instead, the final rule will leave the regulations unchanged, “consistent with [DOL’s] longstanding position that employees are entitled to use compensatory time on the date requested absent undue disruption to the agency.”

The new CFR regulations go into effect on May 5, 2011.

DOL Issues Proposed Rulemaking Revising Wage Calculations For H-2B Workers

According to a DOL press release just issued:

A proposed rule that seeks to improve the H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker program and better protect American workers has just been promulgated. “The proposed rule, to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, addresses the calculations used to set wage rates for H-2B workers.

The H-2B program allows the entry of foreign workers into the U.S. when qualified American workers are not available and when the employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed American workers. The H-2B program is limited by law to a program cap of 66,000 visas per year…

The previous administration promulgated H-2B regulations and did not seek comment in the rulemaking process on the data used to set wage rates. Since the 2008 final rule took effect, however, the department has grown increasingly concerned that the current calculation method does not adequately reflect the appropriate wages necessary to ensure American workers are not adversely affected by the employment of H-2B workers. On Aug. 30, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that the regulations issued by the department in 2008 had violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The court ordered the department to promulgate new rules that are in compliance with the APA concerning the calculation of the prevailing wage rate in the H-2B program no later than 120 days from the date of the order. Today’s announcement begins the process of complying with the order and with achieving the department’s goal of fully protecting the job opportunities and wages of American workers. The department anticipates a future rulemaking that will address other aspects of the H-2B program.

The proposed regulation would require employers to pay H-2B and American workers recruited in connection with an H-2B job application a wage that meets or exceeds the highest of: the prevailing wage, the federal minimum wage, the state minimum wage or the local minimum wage.

Under the proposed rule, the prevailing wage would be based on the highest of the following:

  • Wages established under an agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement.
  • A wage rate established under the Davis-Bacon Act or the Service Contract Act for that occupation in the area of intended employment.
  • The arithmetic mean wage rate established by the Occupational Employment Statistics wage survey for
    that occupation in the area of intended employment.

The proposed rule eliminates the use of private wage surveys, as well as the current four-tier wage structure that differentiates wage rates by the theoretical level of experience, education and supervision required to perform the job, a system that is not relevant to the unskilled positions generally involved in the H-2B program.

Interested persons are invited to submit comments on this proposed rule via the federal e-rulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov.”

203(o) Does Not Extend To PPE Worn By Employees That Is Required By Law, The Employer Or Due To The Nature Of The Job; Changing Clothes May Be Principal Activity, Starting Continuous Workday, Says DOL

Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2010-2

Today, the DOL issued its second Administrative Interpretation of 2010.  The subject of this interpretation was the oft-litigated issue of the definition of “clothes” under 29 U.S.C. 203(0), which has been the subject of countless so-called “donning and doffing” cases. 

Significantly the DOL concluded that:

(1)  “Based on its statutory language and legislative history, it is the Administrator’s interpretation that the § 203(o) exemption does not extend to protective equipment worn by employees that is required by law, by the employer, or due to the nature of the job. This interpretation reaffirms the interpretations set out in the 1997, 1998 and 2001 opinion letters and is consistent with the “plain meaning” analysis of the Ninth Circuit in Alvarez. Those portions of the 2002 opinion letter that address the phrase “changing clothes” and the 2007 opinion letter in its entirety, which are inconsistent with this interpretation, should no longer be relied upon.”

and

(2) “Consistent with the weight of authority, it is the Administrator’s interpretation that clothes changing covered by § 203(o) may be a principal activity. Where that is the case, subsequent activities, including walking and waiting, are compensable. The Administrator issues this interpretation to assist employees and employers in all industries to better understand the scope of the § 203(o) exemption.”

To read the entire Administrator’s Interpretation, click here.

Mortgage Loan Officers Do Not Typically Qualify For The Administrative Exemption, Says DOL

Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2010-1

The Wage and Hour Division, under the current Administration, has issued its first Administrative Interpretation Letter.  The introductory text of the Letter is below:

“Based on the Wage and Hour Division’s significant enforcement experience in the application of the administrative exemption, a careful analysis of the applicable statutory and regulatory provisions and a thorough review of the case law that has continued to develop on the exemption, the Administrator is issuing this interpretation to provide needed guidance on this important and frequently litigated area of the law.  Based on the following analysis it is the Administrator’s interpretation that employees who perform the typical job duties of a mortgage loan officer, as described below, do not qualify as bona fide administrative employees exempt under section 13(a)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1).

Typical Job Duties of Mortgage Loan Officers

The financial services industry assigns a variety of job titles to employees who perform the typical job duties of a mortgage loan officer.  Those job titles include mortgage loan representative, mortgage loan consultant, and mortgage loan originator.  For purposes of this interpretation the job title of mortgage loan officer will be used.  However, as the regulations make clear, a job title does not determine whether an employee is exempt. The employee’s actual job duties and compensation determine whether the employee is exempt or nonexempt.  29 C.F.R. § 541.2.

Facts found during Wage and Hour Division investigations and the facts set out in the case law establish that the following are typical mortgage loan officer job duties: Mortgage loan officers receive internal leads and contact potential customers or receive contacts from customers generated by direct mail or other marketing activity.  Mortgage loan officers collect required financial information from customers they contact or who contact them, including  information about income, employment history, assets, investments, home ownership, debts, credit history, prior bankruptcies, judgments, and liens.  They also run credit reports.  Mortgage loan officers enter the collected financial information into a computer program that identifies which loan products may be offered to customers based on the financial information provided.  They then assess the loan products identified and discuss with the customers the terms and conditions of particular loans, trying to match the customers’ needs with one of the company’s loan products. Mortgage loan officers also compile customer documents for forwarding to an underwriter or loan processor, and may finalize documents for closings.  See, e.g., Yanni v. Red Brick Mortgage, 2008 WL 4619772, at *1 (S.D. Ohio 2008); Pontius v. Delta Financial Corp., 2007 WL 1496692, at *2 (W.D. Pa. 2007); Geer v. Challenge Financial Investors Corp., 2007 WL 2010957 (D. Kan. 2007), at *2; Chao v. First National Lending Corp., 516 F. Supp. 2d 895, 904 (N.D. Ohio 2006), aff’d, 249 Fed.App. 441 (6th Cir. 2007); Epps v. Oak Street Mortgage LLC, 2006 WL 1460273, at *4 (M.D. Fla. 2006); Rogers v. Savings First Mortgage, LLC, 362 F. Supp. 2d 624, 627 (D. Md. 2005); Casas v. Conseco Finance Corp., 2002 WL 507059, at *1 (D. Minn. 2002).”

To read the entire Letter click here.

11th Cir.: Receipt And Signing WH-58 Form And Cashing Of The Employer’s Check Is Sufficient To Effect A Waiver Of Right To Sue Under FLSA

Blackwell v. United Drywall Supply

Plaintiffs were employed by Defendants.  In September 2007, they sued Defendants pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Plaintiffs alleged that, from 2002 forward, Defendants intentionally violated the Act by failing to pay them properly for overtime.  Plaintiffs further alleged that, in 2007, “as a result of an investigation by the United States Department of Labor involving allegations of the improper payment of overtime compensation to its laborer employees, [United Drywall] made payments to various employees for past due overtime compensation.”  Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants retaliated against Williams for his complaints to the Department of Labor regarding overtime violations.  And, Plaintiffs alleged that the payments made as part of the Department of Labor supervised settlement were “far lower than what the employees were legally due.”  They sought allegedly unpaid overtime compensation for three years before the filing of the complaint and attorney’s fees and expenses pursuant to § 216 of the Act.  The Court below granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment holding that Plaintiffs’ signing of the DOL WH-58 form and cashing of settlement checks was a valid waiver of their FLSA rights.  On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

Framing the issue before it, the Court explained, “Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing, among other things: (1) that Plaintiffs had waived their right to sue under the Act when they cashed checks from United Drywall pursuant to the 2007 settlement between the parties supervised by the Department of Labor, and (2) that Plaintiffs are exempt employees under the Motor Carrier Exemption in the Act (“the Exemption”) and therefore are not entitled to back pay pursuant to the Act. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that there were genuine issues of fact regarding whether they had knowingly waived their rights to sue and whether the Exemption applied.  After considering arguments and evidence from both sides, the district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court held that, because Plaintiffs had received Department of Labor form WH-58 (which contained a statement that if Plaintiffs accepted the back wages provided in conjunction with the form, they would give up their rights to bring suit under the Act) and because Plaintiffs had cashed the checks provided in conjunction with the WH-58 forms, Plaintiffs had waived their rights to sue Defendants for the payments they sought under the Act.  The court entered judgment for Defendants.  Plaintiffs appeal the judgment.”

Addressing and denying Plaintiffs’ appeal, the Court reasoned, “Plaintiffs argue that the district court erred in finding waiver because Plaintiffs did not knowingly and intentionally waive their rights to sue. They argue that the WH-58 form provided to them by the Department of Labor is ambiguous and did not put them on notice that, by cashing the checks, they would waive their rights to sue for additional back pay. Defendants argue that the district court correctly found waiver and that the judgment can be supported on the additional ground that the Exemption applies to bar Plaintiffs’ claims. In their reply brief, Plaintiffs respond that affirmance of the judgment based on the Exemption would not be proper because the Exemption is not applicable to Defendants’ business as a matter of law or, in the alternative, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding the application of the Exemption.

We affirm the judgment. We find no error in the district court’s holding “that receipt of a WH-58 form and cashing of the employer’s check is sufficient to effect a waiver of the right to sue under the FLSA.”  There is no dispute that Plaintiffs received WH-58 forms in connection with the checks written by United Drywall and given to Plaintiffs by the Department of Labor as part of the supervised settlement between United Drywall and its employees. Those forms are receipts for payment of “unpaid wages, employment benefits, or other compensation due … for the period up to and including 05/20/2007 … under … The Fair Labor Standards Act….” They contain this language:

NOTICE TO EMPLOYEE UNDER THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT-Your acceptance of back wages due under the Fair Labor Standards Act means that you have given up any right you may have to bring suit for back wages under Section 16(b) of that Act.     ( Id.)

The WH-58 forms then proceed to describe the types of recovery and statutes of limitations under § 16(b) of the Act. We agree with the district court that these forms unambiguously informed Plaintiffs that, if they cashed the checks provided with the forms, they would be waiving their rights to sue for back pay. And, there is no dispute that Plaintiffs cashed the checks. Therefore, the district court correctly determined that ‘both Plaintiffs have waived their right to sue.  Affirming the judgment on waiver grounds, we do not address the parties’ arguments regarding application of the Exemption.’ “

Tyson Foods Found In Violation Of Fair Labor Standards Act In Donning And Doffing Suit, Reuters Reports

Reuters is reporting that “Tyson Foods Inc., one of the nation’s largest poultry producers, has been found in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) at its Blountsville, Ala., facility.  The jury’s verdict in federal court in Birmingham resulted from a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor against the company…

The Department of Labor’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.  The federal department alleged that Tyson Foods did not keep accurate records and failed to pay production line employees for the time they spend donning and doffing safety and sanitary gear, and performing other related work activities.  The violations cover the period from the year 2000 to the present and affect approximately 3,000 current and former workers at the plant.

The initial investigation began in April 2000 as part of the department’s Wage and Hour Division’s poultry enforcement initiative.  The Labor Department filed the district court complaint in May 2002 following the company’s failure to comply with the law and to pay back wages.  The first jury trial, which began in February 2009, ended in a mistrial.  The Labor Department chose to pursue a second trial in August 2009 to secure a ruling that Tyson was failing to compensate its employees lawfully.”

To read the full story go to Reuters’ website.

Las Vegas Review-Journal: 3 Casino Dealers Accuse Wynn Las Vegas Of Illegal Tip Pooling

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting that, “[t]hree Wynn Las Vegas dealers are taking their claims of unfair tip pooling to federal court with a new lawsuit that claims the resort’s tip sharing policy violates federal labor laws.

Attorneys for three of the plaintiffs named in a state lawsuit against Wynn Las Vegas filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nevada late Thursday. The federal lawsuit claims the Wynn tip-pooling policy violates the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Apparently “[t]he decision to file in federal court was made in response to a U.S. Department of Labor brief that was filed siding with a worker in Oregon in a tip-pooling case — Misty Cumbie v. Woody Woo [a case now pending at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals]…

The Labor Department’s brief says the worker in Oregon was correct in challenging her company’s tip-pooling policy, which the department said violates the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

The story discussed Wynn’s potential defense to the case as well. “Wynn dealers attorney Robin Potter said the Oregon case marks the first time the Department of Labor has come out against tip pooling in cases in which the employer was not taking part in a “tip credit” system. Tip credits allow employers to pay less than the minimum wage to workers who can expect to earn most of their salary from tips.

Wynn Las Vegas doesn’t use tip credits and pays its workers minimum wage.

But the Labor Department said in the Woody Woo case that the tipped employees were paid minimum wage but were still required to contribute their tips to ‘an invalid tip pool,” and a portion of that pool was shared with nontipped employees.’

To read the full story go to the Las Vegas Review-Journal website.


NY Car Wash Chain Settles Unpaid Wages Claims For $3.4 Million

The New York Times is reporting that, “[a] New York carwash chain agreed to pay $3.4 million in back wages and liquidated damages to 1,187 current and former employees to resolve part of a lawsuit brought by the United States Department of Labor in August 2005.

The suit was filed against the chain, the Lage Management Corporation, based in Pelham Manor, N.Y., after an investigation found that its carwashes were not paying employees minimum wage, not paying them for overtime and not keeping adequate employment records. In three previous settlements in the case, more than 200 employees had already received more than $1.3 million in back wages and damages.”

To read the full article go to the New York Times website.

Labor Agency Is Failing Workers, Report Says

Steven Greenhouse reports in today’s New York Times that the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor is severely lacking when it comes to its enforcement responsibilities:

“The federal agency charged with enforcing minimum wage, overtime and many other labor laws is failing in that role, leaving millions of workers vulnerable, Congressional auditors have found.

In a report scheduled to be released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office found that the agency, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, had mishandled 9 of the 10 cases brought by a team of undercover agents posing as aggrieved workers.

In one case, the division failed to investigate a complaint that under-age children in Modesto, Calif., were working during school hours at a meatpacking plant with dangerous machinery, the G.A.O., the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress, found.

When an undercover agent posing as a dishwasher called four times to complain about not being paid overtime for 19 weeks, the division’s office in Miami failed to return his calls for four months, and when it did, the report said, an official told him it would take 8 to 10 months to begin investigating his case.”

To read the entire article go to http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/25/washington/25wage.html?hp#