On February 1, 2019 the Keene Sentinel reported that a Massachusetts construction company had been hit with more than $64,000 in fines after an audit conducted by the New Hampshire Department of Labor. Although the bulk of the fines were related to the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, there were also a number of recordkeeping violations found.

The Keene Sentinel article devotes significant attention to the problems of trying to classify individuals as independent contractors under NH state law, a very difficult burden to meet. The result of the audit and the fines imposed on the business, however, showcase how difficult it is for businesses who typically do not operate in a state to establish a workforce there and be in compliance with state laws.

Continue Reading Trials of Massachusetts Company Building Keene Hotel Signals Warning to Businesses with Multi-State Workforces

During the month of September, the Department of Labor will be holding a series of “Listening Sessions” throughout the country in order to hear public comments about planned changes to the overtime rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

On this blog, we have followed the long and winding path of the years-long efforts to update the FLSA’s overtime rules (see our posts on the subject here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).  To recap, in 2014, the Obama Administration set out to overhaul the overtime rules, and, after nearly two years, issued a set of final regulations, which were to have gone into effect on December 1, 2016. Among other things, these regulations would have increased the minimum salary threshold for exempt workers from $455 per week to $913.  This change would have dramatically increased the number of workers who would be classified as non-exempt, and therefore eligible to earn overtime pay.  However, after President Trump’s election, and just days before the regulations were to take effect, a federal court issued an injunction halting the changes.  After almost a year of litigation and uncertainty, the Trump Administration finally abandoned the Obama Administration’s regulations and went back to the drawing board and started the entire rulemaking process over from scratch.

Continue Reading The Department of Labor Wants to Hear from Employers about Planned Changes to the Overtime Rules

Back in September, we reported that the Trump Administration had abandoned the appeal of an injunction blocking new overtime rules from going into effect.  That action effectively killed the Obama Administration’s effort to update and expand the overtime rule by raising the “salary level test” for executive, administrative, and professional workers from $455 per week to $913 per week.  At the same time, the Trump Administration signaled that a scaled-down update of the overtime rule was on the way … eventually.

Continue Reading DOL Pushes Release of Proposed Changes to Overtime Rule to January 2019

Last week, the Department of Labor issued new guidance on whether interns are “employees” covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions.  In the updated guidance, the DOL has adopted the “primary beneficiary test,” first applied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2015, and used by a growing number of courts in recent years.

Continue Reading DOL Issues New Guidance on Unpaid Internships

A few weeks ago, the Department of Labor filed a brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in which it backed away from the $913 per week salary level test set in the 2016 amendments to the FLSA overtime rules.  In that brief, the DOL stated that it would soon publish a request for information seeking public input to be used by the DOL in drafting a new proposed overtime rule.

Continue Reading DOL Issues Request for Information on Changes to Overtime Rules

On June 27, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced that the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) will reinstate the issuance of opinion letters.  You might be wondering why this decision is important to businesses.  The answer is two-fold: (1) opinion letters provide interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) so that employers understand their rights and responsibilities under the law; and (2) opinion letters may be relied upon as a good faith defense to wage claims arising under the FLSA.

Continue Reading US DOL Reinstates Opinion Letters

The US Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced today that Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has withdrawn the DOL’s 2015 and 2016 informal guidance on joint employment and independent contractors.  We previously reported on these issues when the guidance was published under the prior Secretary.  For more information on the guidance please refer to our posts dated January 28, 2016 and September 29, 2015.  The press release cautioned that:

Removal of the administrator interpretations does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, as reflected in the department’s long-standing regulations and case law. The department will continue to fully and fairly enforce all laws within its jurisdiction, including the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

What does this mean for employers? Effectively, not a great deal.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Internal Revenue Code provide fairly clear guidance on the independent contractor tests, and other federal agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) have spoken to the issue of joint employment.

More importantly, however, many states, including ALL of the New England states, have very restrictive independent contractor laws.  Caution should continue to prevail when supplementing one’s workforce with contractors or consults.  Similarly, those businesses which utilize temporary workers from staffing companies or share employees with other related companies should continue to assume that those workers will be considered the joint employees of all who direct their performance or benefit from the services.

It is unknown whether the DOL intends to issue any new guidance on either of these topics.

Annually, the New Hampshire Department of Labor issues a list of the top ten most frequent violations it sees in audits and claims filed before it. The list doesn’t change dramatically from year to year, but violations move up and down the list giving us a clue as to where the DOL may focus its enforcement efforts in 2017. So here we go….

  1. Failure to Secure and Maintain Worker’s Compensation Coverage for Misclassified Workers. The issue of employee misclassification has been a focus of both state and federal agencies for the past ten years. We have written many blog posts directing the attention of business to the issue of independent contractors and how difficult it is to meet the criteria set out by the various agencies who address it. This year, misclassifying workers and failing to provide worker’s compensation coverage for them is at the top of the list.
  2. Failure to Pay All Wages Due for Hours Worked. Employers must be very cognizant of making sure that their employees properly record their hours worked and that employees are paid for all time. Approximations, auto-deductions, and flat time entries are insufficient. Non-exempt employees must record, time in, out for lunch, back in and out for the day as well as time spent answering calls at night, stopping at the post office on the way home and checking email on weekends.
  3. Failure to Have a Written Safety Plan, Joint Loss Management Committee and Safety Summary Form on File. All employers with 15 or more employees must comply strictly with RSA 281-A:64 and the related regulations.
  4. Employing Illegal Aliens (Undocumented Workers). Although this issue is typically within the purview of the federal government, DOL inspectors will review I-9’s and supporting documentation during audits and cite employers for missing or incomplete forms.
  5. Failure to keep accurate records of all hours worked. Similar to number 2 above, the DOL frequently cites employers for failing to maintain accurate documentation of time work and then to follow the legal requirements for paying employees. Non-exempt employees are entitled to a 30 minute unpaid meal break after five continuous hours of work, and employers should make sure that this time is accurately recorded. Similarly, employers may not dock employee pay for breaks of less than 20 minutes.
  6. Failure to Provide Written Notice to Employees of Their Wage Rate, Pay Period, Pay Day and Notice of Fringe Benefits At the Time of Hire and At the Time of Any Change. With careful education, this one has dropped down the list, but is still a frequent issue, especially for businesses which come from out of state. All of this information must be provided to the employee in writing, and the document must be signed by the employee and kept on file. This is a very NH specific requirement. A good way to handle this is to provide an offer letter which the employee needs to sign or at least a pay status document which can be updated with changes such as annual raises.
  7. Youth Employment Violations. The DOL is not forgiving of youth employment violations. Employers must make sure proper parental consent certificates or letters should be on file before a minor begins work. There are also very specific rules about hours and days of work and restrictions on dangerous occupations with which businesses should become familiar if they are going to hire younger workers.
  8. Failure to Pay Two Hours Minimum Pay on Any Day an Employee Reports to Work at the Request of the Employer. This is sometimes referred to as “show up pay” or the
    “snow day” or “not enough work day” rule. If an employee is scheduled for work and comes in, he or she must be paid a minimum of two hours even if the business closes down for the day or sends the employee home due to lack of work. The employer can certainly require the employee to stay and work for the two hours.
  9. Improper deductions from wages. Not following list of approved deductions. New Hampshire has a very specific list of what deductions employers can make from wages and very clear rules on how and when those deductions may be taken. Employers should carefully review RSA 275:48 and the attendant regulation. Although the approved list has been expanded, the deductions must still be voluntary and in most cases authorized in writing by the employee.
  10. Failure to Pay Minimum Wage for All Hours Worked. It is hard for most to imagine that this is still an issue. New Hampshire follows the federal minimum wage ($7.25) which is lower than the minimum wage of all of our neighboring states. The difficulty typically comes into play in very specific scenarios such as commissioned inside sales employees, tipped employees and others who are paid at special rates.

This time of year is a good time to do some risk avoidance planning. It might be a good time to schedule a wage and hour audit or self-audit for January or February, once the dust settles on the New Year celebrations.

Late in the afternoon on November 22, Judge Amos Mazzant of the U.S. District Court in Sherman, Texas issued an order granting an injunction which will at least delay and possibly derail the changes to the overtime rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which are scheduled to go into effect on December 1.

Twenty-one states filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction in October to halt the rule. They claimed that the DOL exceeded its authority by raising the salary threshold too high and by providing for automatic adjustments to the threshold every three years.

The states’ case was consolidated last month with another lawsuit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, which raised similar objections to the rule.

The court found, on a preliminary basis, that Congress intended for the classification of executive, administrative, and professional employees under the FLSA to be determined with regard to duties, and not solely based on a minimum salary level test. The court found that the new overtime rule, with its increase in the salary level test to $913 per week, will render millions of employees ineligible for the EAP exemption without regard to their job duties, in violation of Congress’s intent. The court likewise took issue with the new rule’s automatic triennial increase to the salary level test.

The court referred to the injunction as a means of maintaining the status quo while it took sufficient time to make a final determination on the issue of whether the USDOL had the authority to promulgate the rule as well as whether the rule is valid. Unfortunately, many businesses have already implemented the changes which would have been required for compliance.

Employers are undoubtedly asking what they should do now and what happens next. Some suggestions:

  • If you procrastinated and have not made the changes or informed employees of your intended changes, do nothing for now. Time will tell whether the rule will remain, be modified or revert to the current rule.
  • If you have made the changes or have notified employees of new classifications or new pay rates, stay the course. Taking away pay increases now will not only affect employee morale, it could lead to wage and hour complaints, especially if part of the reason for reclassification was that the employees did not meet the duties tests which were NOT changed by the new regulation.
  • If during this process, you have discovered that you have misclassified employees based on the duties test, make the changes anyway. If employees should be non-exempt based on their duties, now is the best time to make it right.

As far as what the future holds, it is hard to say. The court could make a decision between now and December 1 or it might delay even longer. Once that decision is made, the issue could end up before the US Supreme Court, which still has only eight members. If nothing is done between now and January 20, the new administration could decide not to defend the rule promulgated by the DOL, an arm of the federal government.

If employers find themselves in a quandary our FLSA Task Force is available to assist. Contact us at FLSA@mclane.com.