Proposed FLSA Base Pay Rule Clarifies Overtime Treatment Of Perks

March 28, 2019

Employers frustrated with the current Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) rules defining what forms of payment employers must count as part of an employee’s “regular rate” when calculating overtime should evaluate and consider expressing support for the Department of Labor’s proposal announced today (March 28, 2019) to update its more than 50-year old regulations implementing the regular rate requirements under section 7(e) of FLSA  in 29 C.F.R. Parts 548 and 778.  Officially scheduled for publication in the May 28, 2019 Federal Register, employers and other interested persons may review the unofficial text of the  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Proposed Rule”) released with the Labor Department’s announcement of its proposal today.  The Proposed Rule also will make substantive changes to the Labor Department’s current FLSA regulations about the treatment of “call back pay” and its base pay rules.

Regular Rate For Overtime

The FLSA generally requires employers to pay non-exempt employees overtime pay of at least one and one-half times the “regular rate” of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek. Regular rate requirements define what forms of payment employers include and exclude in the “time and one-half” calculation when determining workers’ overtime rates. The existing rules define the regular rate to include both the base hourly rate of pay and certain bonus and other compensation and perks.  As the Trump Administration supports these proposed changes, employers should start evaluating their implications in anticipation of the Labor Department’s adoption of a Final Rule.  At the same time, businesses supporting the rule or desiring refinements to its provisions also will want to submit comments to the Labor Department no later than the May 18 comment deadline.

Ambiguities in the current more than 50-year-old Labor Department regulations implementing the regular rate requirement rules discourage employers from offering more perks to their employees because of uncertainty about whether the perks are required to be included in the regular rate of pay for purposes of calculating overtime pay.  In many other cases, employers that mistakenly fail to include bonuses, benefits and other perks often experience the unfortunate surprise of getting nailed with unexpected back pay and penalties obligations through Labor Department audits or private litigation.

The Proposed Rule primarily focuses on defining when employers must count bonuses, benefits, and other perks in an employee’s regular rate of pay when calculating overtime.  As proposed, the Proposed Rule would confirm that employers may exclude the following from an employee’s regular rate of pay:

  • the cost of providing wellness programs, onsite specialist treatment, gym access and fitness classes, and employee discounts on retail goods and services;
  • payments for unused paid leave, including paid sick leave;
  • reimbursed expenses, even if not incurred “solely” for the employer’s benefit;
  • reimbursed travel expenses that do not exceed the maximum travel reimbursement under the Federal Travel Regulation System and that satisfy other regulatory requirements;
  • discretionary bonuses, by providing additional examples and clarifying that the label given a bonus does not determine whether it is discretionary;
  • benefit plans, including accident, unemployment, and legal services; and
  • tuition programs, such as reimbursement programs or repayment of educational debt.
  • that employers do not need a prior formal contract or agreement with the employee(s) to exclude certain overtime premiums described in sections 7(e)(5) and (6) of the FLSA; and
  • that employers may exclude pay for time that would not otherwise qualify as “hours worked,” including bona fide meal periods,from an employee’s regular rate unless an agreement or established practice indicates that the parties have treated the time as hours worked.

In addition, the Proposed Rule also would make two substantive changes to the existing regulations on “call-back pay” and to its “basic rate” regulations.

Call-Back Pay

The Proposed Regulation would eliminate the current restriction in Labor Regulation §§ 778.221 and 778.222 that “call-back” pay and other payments similar to call-back pay must be “infrequent and sporadic” to be excludable from an employee’s regular rate, while maintaining that such payments must not be so regular that they are essentially prearranged.

Basic Rate

The Proposed Rule also proposes an update the Labor Department’s “basic t rate” regulations.

Under the current regulations, employers using an authorized basic rate may exclude from the overtime computation any additional payment that would not increase total overtime compensation by more than $0.50 a week on average for overtime work weeks in the period for which the employer makes the payment.

The Proposed Regulation would change the current $0.50 limit to 40 percent of the federal minimum wage (currently $2.90.”  The Labor Department is inviting comments on if 40 percent is an appropriate threshold in its request for comments on the Proposed Regulations.

Comment on the Proposed Rule & Other FLSA Rule Changes

Employers commenting on the Proposed Rule also should keep in mind that its publication comes on the heals of the Labor Department’s proposal of a new Proposed Salary Threshold Rule  that if adopted will increase to $679 per week the minimum salary an employee must earn to qualify for coverage by the “white collar” overtime exemption.  This would effectively raise the amount an employer must pay any worker it wants to treat as exempt under the white collar overtime exemption  from $23,660 annually to $35,308 annually. The adoption of this proposed Salary Threshold Rule as proposed overnight will disqualify a million plus currently salaried workers to hourly employees entitled to overtime under the FLSA.

Businesses concerned about the Proposed Rule or the Proposed Salary Threshold Rule should submit their feedback as comments to the applicable proposal during the applicable comment period.  May 28 is the deadline for employers and other interested persons to submit comments of support or other input on the Proposed Rule to change the regular rate determination rules.

Other Defensive Actions To Minimize FLSA Exposures

Whether or not the either of these proposed rule changes takes effect, U.S. businesses will want to strengthen their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws, tighten contracting and other compliance oversight in relation to outsourced services, weigh options to clean up exposure areas, review insurance coverages and consider other options to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  Conducting this analysis within the scope of attorney-client privilege is important because the analysis and discussions are highly sensitive both as potential evidence for wage and hour and other legal purposes.  Consequently, businesses and their leaders generally will want to arrange for this work to be protected to the extent by attorney-client privilege, work product and other evidentiary protections against discovery by Department, employees or others for FLSA or other workforce enforcement actions.

As a part of this process, businesses and their leaders generally should plan to:

  • Review subcontractor, temporary, lease employee, independent contractor and other outsourced labor and services relationship for potential risk of worker reclassification and tighten contracting and other procedures;
  • Audit the position of each employee currently 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;
  • If the employer hires any individuals under age 18, audit and implement appropriate procedures to ensure its ability to demonstrate compliance with all applicable FLSA child labor rules;
  • If the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor or otherwise performs any services on projects funded with federal or state funds, evaluate the applicability and fulfillment of any special wage, fringe benefit, recordkeeping or other government contracting wage and hour requirements;
  • If the employer hires foreign agricultural or other workers subject to special conditions and requirements, to review compliance with those special requirements;
  • Review and tighten 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 employer uses leased, temporary, or other outsourced labor, evaluate contractual, process and other options to support the employer’s ability cost effectively to respond to an audit, investigation or enforcement action by the Labor Department or private litigants and if necessary, obtain indemnification or other recovery in the event the employer incurs liability due to the use or practices of the outsourced labor supplier;
  • 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 and document all workers classified as exempt;
  • Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Evaluate potential exposures under other employment, labor, tax or related laws or contracts that might be impacted by the findings or actions taken in response to those findings;
  • Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees and assessing and resolving other concerns;
  • Identify and calculate other employee benefit, tax or other corrections and associated costs and procedures that may be required as a result of findings or corrective actions resulting from their redress;
  • Re-engineer work rules, policies, contracts and practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures;
  • Explore insurance, indemnification and other options for mitigating risks and associated investigation and defense costs; and
  • Consider self-correction within the new PAID Program or otherwise.

If you need more information or have questions, contact the author, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  We also invite you to share your own best practices ideas and resources and join the discussions about these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions onLinkedIn.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused wage and hour and other employment, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

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’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;   domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  and other private and government organizations and their management leaders.

Throughout her  career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline;  handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; transactional and other change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation; and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

Author of leading works on wage and hour and a multitude of labor and employment, compensation and benefits, internal controls and compliance, and risk management matters and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her services, experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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