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By: Michael R. Lied, guest blogger

Employers everywhere are seeking ways to understand the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed changes to overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) announced this week. The revisions could impact millions of workers and businesses large and small when the final ruling possibly becomes effective next year. This article attempts to address how the proposed changes would impact businesses.

While the statute, regulations, and court interpretations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) are complex, there are some basic principles.  Generally, employees must be paid at least the applicable minimum wage for all hours worked; in some states, the minimum wage is currently greater than the federal minimum wage.  There are a number of exemptions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, including for certain types of businesses, and certain employees.

The so called “white collar” exemptions are applicable to individuals who have primary duties which qualify them as an executive, administrative, professional, or certain computer professionals.  In addition, in order to be exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements, the employee must be paid on a salary basis of at least $455.00 per week.

The Department of Labor proposes to amend the regulations dealing with white collar exemptions to require that an employee be compensated on a salary basis at not less than $920.00 per week in order to maintain the exemption.  Additionally, the proposed regulations would provide for annual updated salary rates to be published in the Federal Register.

The regulations currently contain a separate exemption for highly compensated employees who customarily and regularly perform one or more of the duties of an executive, administrative or professional employee.  The proposed regulations would increase the required total annual compensation of such a highly compensated employee to $122,148.00, again to be adjusted annually.

While many people anticipated the Department of Labor would also amend the regulations to address the duties which must be performed by employees who fall under the white collar exemptions, that is not a part of the proposed regulation.

However, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requests comments on the current duties test and inclusion of non-discretionary bonuses for purposes of the salary basis test.  Thus, changes in these areas may be proposed latter. The proposed regulation will be subject to a period of public comment, and it is expected that any final rule may not be issued until some time in 2016.

Basic Rules

If in any workweek a nonexempt employee is covered by the FLSA, the employer must total all the hours worked by the employee in that workweek (even though two or more unrelated job assignments may have been performed), and pay overtime compensation for each hour worked in excess of the maximum hours applicable under section 7(a) of the Act—40 hours in a work week.

Workweek

The FLSA takes a single workweek as its standard and does not permit averaging of hours over 2 or more weeks. Thus, if an employee works 30 hours one week and 50 hours the next, he must receive overtime compensation for the overtime hours worked beyond the applicable maximum in the second week, even though the average number of hours worked in the 2 weeks is 40. This is true regardless of whether the employee works on a standard or swing-shift schedule and regardless of whether he is paid on a daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly or other basis. The rule is also applicable to pieceworkers and employees paid on a commission basis. It is therefore necessary to determine the hours worked and the compensation earned by pieceworkers and commission employees on a weekly basis.

An employee’s workweek is a fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours—seven consecutive 24-hour periods. It need not coincide with the calendar week but may begin on any day and at any hour of the day. For purposes of computing pay due under the FLSA, a single workweek may be established for a plant or other establishment as a whole or different workweeks may be established for different employees or groups of employees. Once the beginning time of an employee’s workweek is established, it remains fixed regardless of the schedule of hours worked by him. The beginning of the workweek may be changed if the change is intended to be permanent and is not designed to evade the overtime requirements of the FLSA.

Time to Pay Overtime

There is no requirement in the FLSA that overtime compensation be paid weekly. The general rule is that overtime compensation earned in a particular workweek must be paid on the regular pay day for the period in which such workweek ends. When the correct amount of overtime compensation cannot be determined until some time after the regular pay period, however, the requirements of the FLSA will be satisfied if the employer pays the excess overtime compensation as soon after the regular pay period as is practicable. Payment may not be delayed for a period longer than is reasonably necessary for the employer to compute and arrange for payment of the amount due and in no event may payment be delayed beyond the next payday after such computation can be made.

Regular Rate

The “regular rate” under the FLSA is a rate per hour. The FLSA does not require employers to compensate employees on an hourly rate basis; their earnings may be determined on a piece-rate, salary, commission, or other basis, but in such case the overtime compensation due must be computed on the basis of the hourly rate completed.  Therefore, it is necessary to compute the regular hourly rate of such employees during each workweek, with certain statutory exceptions. The regular hourly rate of pay of an employee is determined by dividing his total remuneration for employment (except exclusions discussed below) in any workweek by the total number of hours actually worked by him in that workweek.

(a)        Earnings at hourly rate exclusively.

If the employee is employed solely on the basis of a single hourly rate, the hourly rate is the “regular rate.” For overtime hours of work the employee must be paid, in addition to the straight time hourly earnings, a sum determined by multiplying one-half the hourly rate by the number of hours worked in excess of 40 in the week. Thus a $12 hourly rate will bring, for an employee who works 46 hours, a total weekly wage of $588 (46 hours at $12 plus 6 at $6). In other words, the employee is entitled to be paid an amount equal to $ 12 an hour for 40 hours and $18 an hour for the 6 hours of overtime, or a total of $588.

(b)        Hourly rate and bonus.

If the employee receives, in addition to the earnings computed at the $12 hourly rate, a production bonus of $46 for the week, the regular hourly rate of pay is $13 an hour (46 hours at $12 yields $552; the addition of the $46 bonus makes a total of $598; this total divided by 46 hours yields a regular rate of $13). The employee is then entitled to be paid a total wage of $637 for 46 hours (46 hours at $13 plus 6 hours at $6.50, or 40 hours at $13 plus 6 hours at $19.50).

(c)        Weekly salary.

If the employee is employed solely on a weekly salary basis, the regular hourly rate of pay, on which time and a half must be paid, is computed by dividing the salary by the number of hours which the salary is intended to compensate. If an employee is hired at a salary of $350 and if it is understood that this salary is compensation for a regular workweek of 35 hours, the employee’s regular rate of pay is $350 divided by 35 hours, or $10 an hour, and when the employee works overtime the employee is entitled to receive $ 10 for each of the first 40 hours and $15 (one and one-half times $10) for each hour thereafter. If an employee is hired at a salary of $375 for a 40-hour week the regular rate is $9.38 an hour.

(d)       Salary for periods other than workweek.

Where the salary covers a period longer than a workweek, such as a month, it must be reduced to its workweek equivalent. A monthly salary is subject to translation to its equivalent weekly wage by multiplying by 12 (the number of months) and dividing by 52 (the number of weeks). A semimonthly salary is translated into its equivalent weekly wage by multiplying by 24 and dividing by 52. Once the weekly wage is arrived at, the regular hourly rate of pay will be calculated as indicated above. The regular rate of an employee who is paid a regular monthly salary of $1,560, or a regular semimonthly salary of $780 for 40 hours a week, is thus found to be $9 per hour. The parties may provide that the regular rates shall be determined by dividing the monthly salary by the number of working days in the month and then by the number of hours of the normal or regular workday. Of course, the resultant rate in such a case must not be less than the statutory minimum wage.

(e)        Fluctuating workweek.

An employee employed on a salary basis may have hours of work which fluctuate from week to week and the salary may be paid him pursuant to an understanding with his employer that he will receive such fixed amount as straight time pay for whatever hours he is called upon to work in a workweek, whether few or many. Where there is a clear mutual understanding of the parties that the fixed salary is compensation (apart from overtime premiums) for the hours worked each workweek, whatever their number, rather than for working 40 hours or some other fixed weekly work period, such a salary arrangement is permitted by the FLSA if the amount of the salary is sufficient to provide compensation to the employee at a rate not less than the applicable minimum wage rate for every hour worked in those workweeks in which the number of hours he works is greatest, and if he receives extra compensation, in addition to such salary, for all overtime hours worked at a rate not less than one-half his regular rate of pay. Since the salary in such a situation is intended to compensate the employee at straight time rates for whatever hours are worked in the workweek, the regular rate of the employee will vary from week to week and is determined by dividing the number of hours worked in the workweek into the amount of the salary to obtain the applicable hourly rate for the week. Payment for overtime hours at one-half such rate in addition to the salary satisfies the overtime pay requirement because such hours have already been compensated at the straight time regular rate, under the salary arrangement.

Example: Assume an employee whose hours of work do not customarily follow a regular schedule but vary from week to week, whose total weekly hours of work never exceed 50 hours in a workweek, and whose salary of $600 a week is paid with the understanding that it constitutes the employee’s compensation, except for overtime premiums, for whatever hours are worked in the workweek. If during the course of 4 weeks this employee works 40, 37.5, 50, and 48 hours, the regular hourly rate of pay in each of these weeks is $15.00, $16.00, $12.00, and $12.50, respectively. Since the employee has already received straight-time compensation on a salary basis for all hours worked, only additional half-time pay is due. For the first week the employee is entitled to be paid $600; for the second week $600.00; for the third week $660 ($600 plus 10 hours at $6,00 or 40 hours at $12.00 plus 10 hours at $18.00); for the fourth week $650 ($600 plus 8 hours at $6.25, or 40 hours at $12.50 plus 8 hours at $18.75).

The “fluctuating workweek” method of overtime payment may not be used unless the salary is sufficiently large to assure that no workweek will be worked in which the employee’s average hourly earnings from the salary fall below the minimum hourly wage rate applicable under the Act, and unless the employee clearly understands that the salary covers whatever hours the job may demand in a particular workweek and the employer pays the salary even though the workweek is one in which a full schedule of hours is not worked.

Typically, such salaries are paid to employees who do not customarily work a regular schedule of hours and are in amounts agreed on by the parties as adequate straight- time compensation for long workweeks as well as short ones, under the circumstances of the employment as a whole. Where all the legal prerequisites for use of the “fluctuating workweek” method of overtime payment are present, the FLSA, does not prohibit paying more. On the other hand, where all the facts indicate that an employee is being paid for his overtime hours at a rate no greater than that which he receives for non-overtime hours, the fluctuating workweek overtime formula cannot be used.

Exclusions From Regular Rate.

The “regular rate” includes all remuneration for employment paid to, or on behalf of, the employee, but does not include:

  • Sums paid as gifts; payments in the nature of gifts made at Christmas time or on other special occasions, as a reward for service, the amounts of which are not measured by or dependent on hours worked, production, or efficiency.
  • Payments made for occasional periods when no work is performed due to vacation, holiday, illness, failure of the employer to provide sufficient work, or other similar cause; reasonable payments for traveling expense, or other expenses, incurred by an employee in the furtherance of his employer’s interests and properly reimbursable by the employer; and other similar payments to an employee which are not made as compensation for his hours of employment.
  • Sums paid in recognition of services performed during a given period if either, (1) both the fact that payment is to be made and the amount of the payment are determined at the sole discretion of the employer at or near the end of the period and not pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise causing the employee to expect such payments regularly; or (2) the payments are made pursuant to a bona fide profit-sharing plan or trust or bona fide thrift or savings plan.

Bonuses.

Bonuses which do not qualify for exclusion from the regular rate as one of these types must be totaled in with other earnings to determine the regular rate on which overtime pay must be based.  Bonus payments are payments made in addition to the regular earnings of an employee.

(a)  General rules.

Where a bonus payment is considered a part of the regular rate at which an employee is employed, it must be included in computing his regular hourly rate of pay and overtime compensation.  No difficulty arises in computing overtime compensation if the bonus covers only one weekly pay period.  The amount of the bonus is merely added to the other earnings of the employee and the total divided by total hours worked.  Under many bonus plans, however, calculations of the bonus may necessarily be deferred over a period of time longer than a workweek.  In such a case the employer may disregard the bonus in computing the regular hourly rate until such time as the amount of the bonus can be ascertained.  Until that is done the employer may pay compensation for overtime at one and one-half times the hourly rate paid by the employer, exclusive of the bonus.  When the amount of the bonus can be ascertained, it must be apportioned back over the workweeks of the period during which it may be said to have been earned.  The employee must then receive an additional amount of compensation for each workweek that he worked overtime during the period equal to one-half of the hourly rate of pay allocable to the bonus for that week multiplied by the number of statutory overtime hours worked during the week.

(b)  Allocation of bonus where bonus earnings cannot be identified with particular workweeks.

If it is impossible to allocate the bonus among the workweeks of the period in proportion to the amount of the bonus actually earned each week, some other reasonable equitable method of allocations must be adopted.  For example, it may be reasonable and equitable to assume that the employee earned an equal amount of bonus each week of the period to which the bonus relates, and if the facts support this assumption additional compensation for each overtime week of the period may be computed and paid in an amount equal to one-half of the average hourly increase in pay resulting from bonus allocated to the week, multiplied by the number of statutory overtime hours worked in that week.  Or, if there are facts which make it inappropriate to assume equal bonus earnings for each workweek, it may be reasonable and equitable to assume that the employee earned an equal amount of bonus each hour of the pay period and the resultant hourly increase may be determined by dividing the total bonus by the number of hours worked by the employee during the period for which it is paid.  The additional compensation due for the overtime workweeks in the period may then be computed by multiplying the total number of statutory overtime hours worked in each such workweek during the period by one-half this hourly increase.

(c)  Discretionary character of excluded bonus.

In order for a bonus to qualify for exclusion as a discretionary bonus, the employer must retain discretion both as to the fact of payment and as to the amount until a time quite close to the end of the period for which the bonus is paid.  The sum, if any, to be paid as a bonus is determined by the employer without prior promise or agreement.  The employee has no contract right, express or implied, to any amount.  If the employer promises in advance to pay a bonus, he has abandoned his discretion with regard to it.  Thus, if an employer announces to his employees in January that he intends to pay them a bonus in June, he has thereby abandoned his discretion regarding the fact of payment by promising a bonus to his employees.  Such a bonus would not be excluded from the regular rate.  Similarly, an employer who promises to sales employees that they will receive a monthly bonus computed on the basis of allocating 1 cent for each item sold whenever, is his discretion, the financial condition of the firm warrants such payments, has abandoned discretion with regard to the amount of the bonus though not with regard to the fact of payment.  Such a bonus would not be excluded from the regular rate.  On the other hand, if a bonus such as the one just described were paid without prior contract, promise or announcement and the decision as to the fact and amount of payment lay in the employer’s sole discretion, the bonus would be properly excluded from the regular rate.

(d)  Promised bonuses not excluded.

The bonus, to be excluded, must not be paid “pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise.”  For example, any bonus which is promised to employees upon hiring or which is the result of collective bargaining would not be excluded from the regular rate under the FLSA.  Bonuses which are announced to employees to induce them to work more steadily or more rapidly or more efficiently or to remain with the firm are regarded as part of the regular rate of pay.  Attendance bonuses, individual or group production bonuses, bonuses for quality and accuracy of work, bonuses contingent upon the employee’s continuing in employment until the time the payment is to be made and the like are in this category.  They must be included in the regular rate of pay.

If you have any questions about these proposed changes, you may contact Mr. Leid at

http://www.howardandhoward.com

MLied@HowardandHoward.com

One Technology Plaza, Suite 600
211 Fulton Street
Peoria, IL 61602-1350
Office: (309) 999-6311
Cell: (309) 696-0604
Fax: (309) 672-1568

About the Author

Jay Young is a Las Vegas, Nevada attorney. His practice focuses on business law, business litigation, and acting as an Arbitrator and Mediator.

Mr. Young can be reached at 702.667.4868 or at jay@h2law.com.