Oil and gas service giant Halliburton, has agreed to pay $18,293,557 to 1,016 employees nationwide to settle charges by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (DOL) resulting from an investigation conducted as part of an ongoing, multi-year compliance initiative by the DOL targeting oil and gas industry employers in the Southwest and Northeast as part of the Obama Administration’s tough Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) enforcement stance against employers generally. One of the largest FLSA settlements in years, the investigation and resulting settlement with Haliburton illustrates the growing need for all employers generally, and oil and gas industry employers specifically to reexamine the defensibility of their worker classifications, wage, overtime and documentation practices under the FLSA and other minimum wage and overtime laws. With wage and hour and other FLSA and resulting judgements and penalties rising, oil and gas industry and other U.S. employers need to protect themselves and their leaders against growing FLSA exposures by tightening payroll classification, wage and hour pay and recordkeeping and other practices as well as take other steps to prepare their organizations to defend against potential DOL or private claims.
One of the world’s largest providers of products and services to the energy industry, Halliburton employs more than 70,000 employees, representing 140 nationalities in more than 80 countries worldwide. According to DOL, the new settlement stems from Halliburton’s failure to pay overtime to more than 1000 employees working in 28 job positions that Halliburton characterized as “exempt” which DOL says did not qualify for salaried treatment. DOL claims that its investigators found Halliburton violated the FLSA by incorrectly categorizing and failing to pay overtime to more than 1000 employees working as field service representatives, pipe recovery specialists, drilling tech advisors, perforating specialists and reliability tech specialists when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek. As is often the case when a company misclassifies workers, DOL also charged Halliburton with failing to keep accurate records of hours worked by these employees.
The FLSA requires that covered, non-exempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers must maintain accurate time and payroll records of all time worked by non-exempt employees as well as able to prove that workers treated as salaried actually in fact qualify as exempt under the FLSA.
Simply paying an employee a salary does not necessarily mean the employee is not eligible for overtime. While the FLSA provides an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay requirements for individuals employed in bona fide executive, administrative, professional and outside sales positions, as well as certain computer employees, employer relying on these exemptions currently must be prepared to prove employees are treated and paid as exempt by the employer earn at least $455 per week and also meet all requirements of the specific tests regarding their job duties required by DOL regulations to qualify for payment on a salary basis.
In response to certain long-standing industry practices that it views as prohibited by the FLSA, DOL has included oil and gas industry and a broad range of other employers among the industries that DOL is specifically targeting for investigation and enforcement of minimum wage, overtime and other FLSA violations as well as educational outreach to employers and employees in the industry. Beyond employers directly engaged in oil and gas production, the DOL says its industry enforcement initiative also focuses on a broad range of other related businesses including trucking, lodging, water and stone haulers, staffing companies and others — that support oil and gas industry operation.
The heightened emphasis on DOL investigation, enforcement and educational outreach create significant risks for businesses and their leaders. Settlements like the Halliburton settlement are painful for any employer and Halliburton is not the first industry leader caught by the DOL. Other DOL investigations target a broad range of other long standing and widely used industry practices. In 2014, for instance, a DOL investigation resulted in Shell Oil Co. and Motiva Enterprises LLC, which markets Shell gasoline and other products, agreeing to pay $4,470,764 in overtime back wages to 2,677 current and former chemical and refinery employees to settle DOL charges that the companies violated FLSA overtime provisions by not paying workers for the time spent at mandatory pre-shift meetings and failing to record the time spent at these meetings. In addition to paying backpay, Shell and Motiva committed to retrain managers, payroll personnel and human resources personnel on the FLSA’s requirements including the importance of requiring accurate recording and pay for all hours worked with emphasis on pre-and post-shift activities. See Shell Oil/Motiva Enterprises $4.5M FLSA Overtime Backpay Settlement Reminder To Pay Workers Properly , the DOL’s educational outreach to employees spells trouble for oil and gas industry and related employers that violate the FLSA.
Along with the direct investigation and enforcement activities by DOL, DOL’s educational outreach also are adding fuel to private litigation and demands based on alleged wage and hour, overtime and other FLSA and state minimum wage and overtime laws. Already a substantial concern following a reported 432% increase between 1994 and 2013, FLSA continued to rise in 2014 for the seventh year in a row. According to the Federal Judicial Center, a record 8,126 FLSA cases were filed between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014, a nearly 5 percent increase over the prior year’s period. See Record number of federal wage and hour lawsuits filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act; Wage and Hour Claims Among Top Threats to U.S. Employers. These risks promise to soar even higher of the Obama Administration is successful in its recently announced plan to increase the minimum weekly wage an employee must earn to meet the threshold test for classification as exempt and tighten other FLSA exemption requirements. See, e.g. Obama Administration Proposal Would Extend FLSA Minimum Wage & Overtime Requirements To 5 Million+ Workers.
Beyond recognizing and managing their business’ organizational exposures, business leaders also need to recognize the potential personal liability exposures that aggressive worker classification, wage and hour and overtime practices may create for members of management. With plaintiff’s and their attorneys increasingly are adding executives to the list of defendants named in their FLSA collective action claims, management should view appropriate FLSA compliance and risk management as critical to manage their own as well as their business’ liabilities. See U.S. Businesses & Their Leaders Face Rising FLSA Collective Action Liability Risks.
Furthermore, the risks and consequences of misclassification generally aren’t limited to wages. FLSA and other worker classifications usually have carryover implications on health and other employee benefit plans and their compliant administration. These risks are particularly acute for health plans, where the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) relies upon FLSA based hours and characterizations to determine the effect of its “employer pay or play” shared responsibility payment rules, default enrollment rules and various other requirements. As a result, employers as well as plan fiduciaries, insurers, and administrators also generally will want to evaluate the defensibility of an employer’s treatment of an employee as exempt or otherwise excludable for purposes of these and other key benefit rules, as well as the potential implications of these characterization on the plan, its administration and exposure.
Of course since liability insurers issuing employment practices, officers and director, fiduciary and other liability coverage often are exposed to defense and judgment costs and judgments resulting from challenged practices, carriers also generally should consider these rapidly expanding exposures and the advisability of taking steps to mitigate these risks.
Employers, Plans & Liability Insurers Should Strengthen Practices For Defensibility
Because of these and other significant risks, businesses and their management leaders should act quickly to review and document the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws and take other actions to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws. Steps advisable as part of this process include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Require all workers – whether exempt or non-exempt – to record and report all hours worked as a backstop against potential reporting and other liabilities in the event a worker is reclassified, as well as to capture critical data about hours worked by salaried or other non-hourly workers the business may need to mitigate ACA employer shared responsibility and other risks and liabilities.
- Critically evaluate the defensibility of the characterization of each position current classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and retain documentation showing these efforts and justification of the use of that characterization;
- Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
- Review the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
- Review of existing practices for tracking compensable hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
- If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, self-initiation of proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
- Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly as well as exempt employees;
- Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees;
- Re-engineer of work rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures;
- Carefully review and contract with subcontractors, staffing and leasing, and other parties supplying workers to require compliance with and the provisions of supporting records and documentation needed to prove compliance with applicable FLSA wage, overtime, and documentation requirements, the ability to access critical documentation and cooperation in the event the DOL or private litigation challenges the treatment of these contractors’ employees as employees of the business or make other claims of liability, suitable indemnification, and other safeguards against potential imputed liability claims for actions of contractors;
- Trace and evaluate results and implications on these characterizations on health and other employee benefit plan rights and potential liabilities resulting in the event of recharacterization;
- Evaluate and secure appropriate employment practices, fiduciary liability and other liability protection to help ensure the availability of coverage for potential claims and litigation; and
For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other NeedsRecognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law extensively involved in health and other employee benefit and human resources policy and program design and administration representation and advocacy throughout her career, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 27 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. As a key element of this work, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™
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- Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com the member of contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.
- Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer annually leads the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) HHS Office of Civil Rights agency meeting and other JCEB agency meetings. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to many business, professional and civic organizations.
- Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy. Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.
- A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms.Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health and other employee benefit, human resources and insurance matters and policy.
- If you need help in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, DOL, Justice Department, or other federal or state agencies or other private plaintiff or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification or other labor and employment, compliance, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872.
- Because of the potentially significant liability exposure, employers generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel before starting their risk assessment and assess risks and claims within the scope of attorney-client privilege to help protect the ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections to help shelter conversations or certain other sensitive risk activities from discovery under the rules of evidence.
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