Bank’ $1Million Plus Overtime Settlement Shows Risks of Misapplying FLSA’s Administrative Exemption

December 1, 2012

Department of Labor (Labor Department) officials are pointing to a more than $1 million backpay settlement paid by First Republic Bank as a reminder of the risks that employers run by treating employees as exempt from minimum wage, overtime and recordkeeping requirements without confirming that the facts surrounding the employment of each employee considered exempt in fact meet every condition that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires to qualify as exempt.

First Republic Bank paid $1,009,643.93 in overtime back wages for 392 First Republic Bank employees in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon after the Labor Department found the San Francisco-based bank wrongly classified the employees as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime and recordkeeping requirements, resulting in violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime and record-keeping provisions.  The Labor Department announced the settlement resulting in the payment on November 27, 2012.

The settlement came after an investigation by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division found that the San Francisco-based bank wrongly classified the employees as exempt from overtime, resulting in violations of the FLSA’s overtime and record-keeping provisions.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 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 also are required to maintain accurate time and payroll records.

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, job titles do not determine the applicability of this or other FLSA exemptions. In order for an exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and salary must meet all the requirements of the department’s regulations. To qualify for exemption, employees generally must meet certain tests regarding their job duties and be paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 per week.

Investigators found that First Republic Bank failed to consider the FLSA’s criteria that allow certain administrative and professional employees to be exempt from receiving overtime pay. In fact, the employees were entitled to overtime compensation at one and one-half times their regular rates for hours worked over 40 in a week. Additionally, the bank failed to include bonus payments in nonexempt employees’ regular rates of pay when computing overtime compensation, in violation of the act. Record-keeping violations resulted from the employer’s failure to record the number of hours worked by the misclassified employees.  

“It is essential that employers take the time to carefully assess the FLSA classification of their workforce,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis in the Labor Department’s announcement of the settlement. “As this investigation demonstrates, improper classification results in improper wages and causes workers real economic harm.”

 FLSA Violations Generally Costly;  Enforcement Rising

The enforcement record of the Labor Department confirms that employers that improperly treat workers as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime, minimum wage and recordkeeping requriements run a big risk.  The Labor Deprtment and private plaintiffs alike regularly target employers that use aggressive worker classification or other pay practices to avoid paying minimum wage or overtime to workers.  Under the Obama Administration, DOL officials have made it a priority to enforce overtime, record keeping, worker classification and other wage and hour law requirements.  See e.g.,  Boston Furs Sued For $1M For Violations Of Fair Labor Standards Act; Record $2.3 Million+ Backpay Order; Minimum Wage, Overtime Risks Highlighted By Labor Department Strike Force Targeting Residential Care & Group Homes; Review & Strengthen Defensibility of Existing Worker Classification Practices In Light of Rising Congressional & Regulatory Scrutiny; 250 New Investigators, Renewed DOL Enforcement Emphasis Signal Rising Wage & Hour Risks For EmployersQuest Diagnostics, Inc. To Pay $688,000 In Overtime Backpay In an effort to further promote compliance and enforcement of these rules,  the Labor Department is using  smart phone applications, social media and a host of other new tools to educate and recruit workers in its effort to find and prosecute violators. See, e.g. New Employee Smart Phone App New Tool In Labor Department’s Aggressive Wage & Hour Law Enforcement Campaign Against Restaurant & Other Employers.    As a result of these effort, employers violating the FLSA now face heightened risk of enforcement from both the  Labor Department and private litigation. 

Employers Should Strengthen Practices For Defensibility

 To minimize exposure under the FLSA, employers should 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:

  • Audit of each position current classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying 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 employees;
  • Exploration of available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees; and
  • Re-engineering of work rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures.

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. 

For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

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 .

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer often has worked, extensively on these and other workforce and performance related matters.   She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly. 

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