Today’s diverse business environment creates a demand for businesses to think creatively about their employment relationships, including creative scheduling and pay arrangements. While many of these arrangements produce win/win solutions for both the business and its employees, businesses need to use care properly to evaluate and manage minimum wage, overtime, and other wage and hour law responsibilities under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and applicable state law.
A new Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) opinion letter published December 21 illustrates this point. WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28 (Dec. 21, 2018) evaluates FLSA minimum wage and overtime compliance of one employer’s innovative strategy of paying certain hourly employees one hourly rate while the employee was working with clients and a second, lower hourly rate of pay for time that the employee spent traveling between client sites throughout the day.
In WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28 (Dec. 21, 2018), the WHD expresses reservations about whether the specific practices of the requesting employer for calculating overtime for workers paid different hourly rates for different categories of work during the same work week fulfill the FLSA overtime requirements under certain circumstances, but blessed the compliance of the practice of the employer with the FLSA minimum wage rules.
While only the employer that actually requested the ruling that resulted in the Opinion actually may rely upon the Opinion, the ruling highlights both the potential opportunity for businesses to structure innovative compensation and scheduling arrangements within the requirements of the FLSA and other laws, as well as the legal exposures that employers using innovative staffing and compensation arrangement risk by failing to appropriately manage these responsibilities.
FLSA Minimum Wage & Overtime Requirements Generally
The FLSA generally requires that employers pay covered, nonexempt employees receive at least the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour) for all hours worked. See 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1). According to previously published WHD guidance, WHD will consider an employer to have fulfilled this requirement “if the employee’s total wages for the workweek divided by compensable hours equal or exceed the applicable minimum wage.” See WHD Opinion Letter FLSA2004-8NA (Aug. 12, 2004)(different pay rates for trucking company workers); WHD Field Operations Handbook § 30b02.
In addition to the requirement to pay at least the minimum wage, the FLSA also requires that covered, nonexempt employees receive overtime compensation of at least one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for time worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). To determine the regular rate of pay for purposes of calculating the required overtime, an employer generally divides the employee’s “remuneration for employment” (subject to the exclusions in 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)) by the total hours worked for the workweek. See 29 C.F.R. § 778.109.
WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28
In WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28 (Dec. 21, 2018), WHD addressed its views regarding a home health provider’s practice for calculating the wages due to home health aide services that traveled to home health clients’ homes, who were required to travel to different client home locations during the workday. The employer establishes different rates of pay for time spent working with clients versus time spent traveling from location to location. To calculate weekly pay, that employer multiplied an employee’s time with clients by his hourly pay rate established by the employer for time spent working with clients. The employer then divides the product by the employee’s total hours worked, which includes both the client time and the travel time. The employer guarantees that the quotient meets both federal and state minimum wage rate requirements.
According to the facts published in the WHD Opinion Letter, the home health provider represented that a typical standard rate of pay is $10.00 per hour with a client including travel time,” and that “[i]f any employee works over 40 hours (total paid hours and [travel] time) in any given workweek, the employer pays the employee time and a half for all time over 40 hours at a rate of $10.00.”
Based upon the factual representations made by the home health agency, WHD ruled the employer’s compensation plan complies with the FLSA’s minimum wage requirements but expressed concern about whether the employer’s practices for calculating overtime complied with the FLSA.
Concerning the FLSA minimum wage compliance, the WHD found that the employers practice fulfilled the FLSA minimum wage requirements because even though the employee’s average hourly pay rate varied from workweek to workweek, the employer always ensured that the average hourly pay rate exceeded the FLSA’s minimum wage requirement for all hours worked.
In contrast, however, WHD expressed concern about the compliance of the employer’s compensation plan with the FLSA’s overtime requirements under certain circumstances. WHD states in the Opinion that the employer will not pay all overtime due to employees whose actual rate of pay exceeds $10 per hour if the employer always assumes a regular rate of pay of $10 per hour when calculating overtime due. See 29 C.F.R. § 778.107.
The Opinion notes that “neither an employer nor an employee may arbitrarily choose the regular rate of pay; it is an “actual fact” based on “mathematical computation.” Walling v. Youngerman-Reynolds Hardwood Co., Inc., 325 U.S. 419, 424–25 (1945); 29 C.F.R. § 778.108.
On the other hand, the Opinion also states that the employer’s compensation plan would comply with the FLSA’s overtime requirements for all employees whose actual regular rates of pay are less than $10 per hour, as an employer may choose to pay an overtime premium in excess of the required amount. See, e.g., Molina v. First Line Solutions LLC, 566 F. Supp. 2d 770, 779 (N.D. Ill. 2007).
The cautionary lessons from FLSA Opinion 2018-28 echo those WHD previously has issued alerting businesses to the need to use care to properly understand and meet FLSA requirements when structuring and administering two-tier hourly pay or other innovative pay and scheduling arrangements.
egular drivers a specified hourly rate with a minimum guarantee of two hours driving time pay per route/additional assignment. The contract also provided that for an assigned trip of less than two hours, a driver that wanted to receive pay for hte minimum guaranteed time had to perform regular maintenance in the bus garage or other work as assigned by the School District to complete the two hours. Furthermore, the contract also specified that “Any regular driver may complete a voucher for payment for additional time if their morning or afternoon route exceeds his/her assigned time by one half hour or more” and that the employers only would pay additional wages for the actual added time worked to employees that worked at least 30 minutes or more without rounding to the next hour for calculating wages. Thus, an employee that worked an additional twenty-five minutes beyond his/her normal shiftwould not be compensated for the extra time worked. Meanwhile, a bus driver that returned fifty minutes past the scheduled time received pay for an additional 50 minutes of work.
WHD’s issue with the arrangement was that the rounding practices applied under the arrangement meant that the school district did not ensure that workers were paid at least the minimum wage per hour for all hours worked and might under some circumstances not properly pay overtime due to workers.
While acknowledging that Labor Regulation Section 785.47 allows employers to disregard ‘insubstantial or insignificant periods of time outside the scheduled working hours that cannot practically be precisely recorded as de minimis, WHD noted that the de minimis rule applies only where a few seconds or minutes of work are involved and where the failure to count such time is due to considerations justified by industrial realities. It does not allow an employer by contract or otherwise to arbitrarily fail to count as hours worked any part, however small, of the employee’s fixed or regular working time. Where an employer fails to pay an employee for any part of the employee’s fixed or regular working time, however small, this would be considered a violation of the FLSA.
Concerning the FLSA’s requirement that the employer pay hourly employees at least the minimum wage, WHD noted that in non-overtime workweeks or in workweeks in which the overtime provisions do not apply, WHD would consider the employer to have met the minimum wage requirement if the employee’s total wages for the workweek divided by compensable hours equal or exceed the applicable minimum wage. WHD added that this principle would apply even if the employer technically did not compensate the emploeye for time which is compensable under the FLSA.
Concerning the overtime requirements of the FLSA, however, WHD had greater reservations. As WHD noted in the 2004 Opinion, when a covered and non-exempt employee works overtime, a different rule applies. The FLSA overtime rule requires that an employer pay the employee for all hours worked at the agreed rate plus the overtime premium (one-half the regular rate) for all overtime hours. Therefore, before an employee can be said to be paid statutory overtime compensation due, the employee must first be paid all straight time wages due for all hours worked under any express or implied contract or under any applicable statute (see 29 CFR Part 778.315). As a result, WHD found that the FLSA overtime requirements would require the employer both to ensure that the employee actually was paid for each hour of straight time at the regular rate of pay plus time and a half of the regular rate of pay for each overtime hour worked.
WHD additionally noted in the 2004 Opinion that the employer also risked violation of Labor Regulation 516.2(a)(7)’s requirement that the employer maintain accurate recordkeeping of hours worked each workday and total hours worked each workweek for covered, nonexempt employees if the payroll records do not accurately record the number of hours worked in one or more of the workdays.
Takeaways For Other Employers About Using Variable Pay Rates & Other Innovative Scheduling & Pay Practices
While other employers actually cannot rely upon either WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28, , or most other WHD Opinion Letters, WHD Opinion Letters and other publishe guidance, as well as judicial precedent and the enforcement conduct by WHD provide a wealth of valuable insights for other employers about the potential FLSA opportunities and pitfalls of using variable rates of pay or other innovative compensation, scheduling and timekeeping practices for compensating hourly employees. Employers using or contemplating using innovative compensation, scheduling or recordkeeping practices should should seek assistance from experienced legal counsel with accessing and using this guidance to help reduce the risk that a proposed innovative compensation or other practice for scheduling or paying nonexempt hourly workers will trigger unanticipated FLSA or other liabilities..
Make Wage & Hour Compliance & Risk Management Priority To Reduce Exposures
Aside from using caution to properly calculate and pay overtime for workers paid different rates for different types of work, employers also need to use care to avoid other common FLSA and other wage and hour overtime violations.
With the Trump Administration U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) continuing its aggressive investigation and enforcement of minimum wage, overtime and other Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other wage and hour laws it used to recover more than $1.2 billion in back pay for workers over the past five years, Agriculture, Amusement, Apparel Manufacturing, Auto Repair, Child Care Services, Construction, Food Services, Guard Services, Hair, Nail & Skin Care Services, Health Care, Hotels and Motels, Janitorial Services, Landscaping Services, Retail, and Temporary Help and other U.S. employers should evaluate their current and past potential liability exposures and consider using the new pilot WHD self-audit Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program announced by WHD on March 6 or other options to mitigate their liability for their own or temporary or other contract labor’s existing or past minimum wage and hour law violations.
U.S. employers and leaders with wage and hour management authority risk substantial liability from unresolved violations of the FLSA and other federal and state wage and hour laws.
One of the most frequently violated and litigated federal employment laws, the FLSA generally requires that U.S. employers pay nonexempt employees at least $7.25 per hour for all regular compensable hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In general, FLSA “hours worked” includes all time an employee must be on duty, or on the employer’s premises or at any other prescribed place of work, from the beginning of the first principal work activity to the end of the last principal activity of the workday. Similar state or local laws often also impose higher minimum wage, compensable hour, break and other requirements than federal law requires.
The FLSA and most applicable state and local wage and hour laws also mandate that employers maintain records of the hours worked by employees by non-exempt employees, documentation of the employer’s proper payment of its non-exempt employees in accordance with the minimum wage and overtime mandates of the FLSA, and certain other records and prohibit retaliation by an employer or other person again an employee or other person for asserting rights under the law or cooperating in a WHD investigation about FLSA compliance.
Beyond these FLSA minimum wage and overtime requirements, WHD regulations and court decisions provide guidance on when an employer must treat “on-call” time, travel time, meal and break times, and certain other time periods as compensable hours worked by a non-exempt employee, when “comp time” in lieu of the payment of wages is permitted, various alternative methods for calculating overtime under certain special circumstances, and various other rules applicable to various special circumstances. Other special rules also can apply to businesses employing tipped employees, home workers, child labor, certain farm workers, workers working with special visas, and other special classes or workers. Furthermore, collective bargaining agreements or other contracts or other federal, state or local laws also sometimes impose additional requirements for employers to pay higher “prevailing wages,” apply special rules for counting compensable work hours, and provide specified fringe benefits or other special compensation or protections or other wages, when the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor covered by the Service Contract Act, the Davis Bacon Act or other similar federal or state statutes.
Over the past decade, WHD and private enforcement of the FLSA and other wage and hour laws generally has skyrocketed in part driven by the Obama Administration’s prioritization on raising the minimum wage, extending federal wage and hour protections, and expanding WHD and other enforcement. WHD’s success in recovering more than $1.2 billion in back pay for workers over the past five years and other achievements in expanding its own and private oversight and enforcement and the continuation of these efforts under the Trump Administration means all employers need to view wage and hour law as a major liability risk requiring conscientious management. However, the risk of enforcement is particularly acute for businesses in the following industries, designed for heightened enforcement and other attention as “Low Wage High Violation Industries” based on their particularly high record of noncompliance: Agriculture, Amusement, Apparel Manufacturing, Auto Repair, Child Care Services, Construction, Food Services, Guard Services, Hair, Nail & Skin Care Services, Health Care, Hotels and Motels, Janitorial Services, Landscaping Services, Retail, and Temporary Help.
Scrutiny & Challenges To Contract & Outsourced Labor Relationships Rising
Beyond assessing their FLSA and other wage and hour compliance and associated exposures from the worker on their own payroll, U.S. employers and their leaders also should take care to carefully evaluate potential exposures from nontraditional services relationships and act to manage those risks.
Misclassification of workers providing services as non-employees increasingly causes U.S. businesses to incur unanticipated FLSA and other wage and hour law liability for back pay, liquidated punitive damages, civil monetary penalties and other liability, in part because of WHD’s stepped up worker education, scrutiny, investigation, and enforcement challenging employers’ treatment of workers as non-employees.
The FLSA and state and local rules generally apply to any workers that the employer who receives its services cannot prove is not its common law employee or an exempt employee within the meaning of the FLSA. The FLSA and most other wage and hour laws generally rules presume that workers rendering services are common law employees of the business in most circumstances. Businesses should evaluate their FLSA exposures from both workers they recognize as common law employees and those performing services in capacities that the business typically does not view as common law or otherwise covered by the FLSA when managing FLSA compliance and evaluating exposures, employers should exercise care not to overlook potential responsibilities and exposures associated with outsourced services provided through relationships characterized by the employer as subcontractors, independent contractors, lease employees, or other common outsourced relationships.
Court decisions and regulations provide guidance for determining when leased, contract, jointly employed, independent contractor or other non-traditionally employed workers will be treated as employees of a business, As in many other enforcement areas, The WHD and many other agencies increasingly view the misclassification of workers as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, leased employees and other common “outsourced” relationship as a serious problem for affected employees, employers and to the entire economy.
According to the Labor Department, misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections, such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance and other rights. The Labor Department also says employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to state and federal treasuries, and to the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers compensation funds. To address these and other concerns, the Labor Department has joined other agencies like the Internal Revenue Service increasingly is challenging employers’ treatment of workers as exempt from FLSA and other legal obligations as independent contractors or otherwise.
In response to these concerns, WHD published guidance warning employers about misclassification of workers about potential violation of the FLSA by improper misclassification of workers as independent contractors or non-employed. See Department of Labor Issues Guidance of Misclassification of Workers. DOL’s key points in the guidance are that:
- Most workers are employees under the broad definitions of the FLSA;
- No single factor is determinative;
- Employers should be wary of classifying workers as independent contractors merely because the workers control some aspects of their work; and
- The ultimate question is whether a worker “is really in business for him or herself (and thus is an independent contractor) or is economically dependent on the employer (and thus is an employee).
Other guidance makes clear that WHD and other agencies concerns about misclassification extend beyond workers labeled independent contractors to include scrutiny of subcontractor, day labor, temporary, leased employee and a broad range of other outsourced services relationships. See here,
Consistent with these principles, WHD and private litigants in recent years have increasingly scrutinized and successfully challenged employers’ failure to comply with the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and other rules with respect to these outsourced workers. See e.g., $1.4M FLSA Back Pay Award Demonstrates Worker Misclassification Risks; Employer Faces $2M FLSA Lawsuit For Alleged Worker Misclassification; $754,578 FLSA Settlement Shows Employer Risks From Worker Misclassification, Underpayment; WHD now both conducts significant worker education outreach and regularly requests and scrutinizes the characterization of and FLSA compliance of outsourced workers in connection with its FLSA investigations and audits. See e.g. Get the Facts on Misclassification Under the FLSA; Am I an Employee?: Employment Relationship Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); Compliance Assistance Page – Fair Labor Standards Act; Elaws: Independent Contractors; Know Your Rights Video Series: Misclassification as an Independent Contractor; WHD Press Releases about employee Misclassification as Independent Contractors. These and other developments are significantly increasing the likelihood that businesses will face WHD or private litigants challenges to its FLSA compliance relating to workers rendering services as independent contractors, subcontractors or other outsourced services providers.
Employers often face substantial challenges responding to, much less, containing their FLSA exposures when a WHD or a private litigant successfully challenges the employer’s classification of the worker as a non-employee for a variety of reasons. Beyond the likelihood of violations resulting from the employer’s failure to recognize it might owe minimum wage and overtime duties to the worker, an employer often lacks records and other data needed to fulfill recordkeeping and posting requirements and to accurately demonstrate hours worked and hourly rates to limit resulting back pay exposures because these workers are not treated as part of the employer’s workforce. Obtaining the necessary records to respond to a WHD or other investigation, lawsuit or other action often proves challenging because the independent contractor, leasing company, or other provider or of the services often becomes unavailable, is disincentivized by its own noncompliance or other interests, has failed to maintain necessary documentation or otherwise fails to cooperate in the delivery of these materials. Furthermore, as leased employee, staffing, independent contractor and other outsourced arrangements invoice services at higher rates of compensation payment than the employer might otherwise have paid a traditionally employed worker, the lack of records and elevated compensation rates tend to push up the compensation used to calculate back pay and other awards. Accordingly, employers utilizing these arrangements should use care in structuring and administering these arrangements properly to evaluate their likely FLSA and other treatment and to manage these risks.
FLSA Big Liability Risk
Under the FSLA and applicable state wage and hour laws, violations of the FLSA and other federal or state wage and hour laws expose employers to substantial back pay, interest and punitive damages, civil monetary penalties for willful or and in the case of willful or repeated violations and in the case of willful violations, criminal prosecution.
Because of the ability to recover liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees in addition to unpaid back pay, private enforcement of the FLSA is common. The FLSA generally allows employees wrongfully denied wages in violation of the FLSA to bring lawsuits to enforce their rights provided that the WHD has not or does not intervene to enforce those rights on the worker’s behalf. Workers successfully proving an employer violated their FLSA rights typically can recover back pay, plus liquidated damages, interest, attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement from the breaching employer. In some cases, Corporate officers such as CEOs, CFOs or COOs and other management leaders with control over the breaching employer’s financial affairs also be held personally liable for the unpaid wages See e.g., Lamonica v. Safe Hurricane Shutters, +2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 4599 (11th Cir. 2013)(ruling personal liability for FLSA violations can attach to any individual with control over an employer’s financial affairs who could potentially cause an employer to violate FLSA).
As an alternative to private litigation, the FLSA empowers the WHD to supervise or if necessary, enforce through litigation the rights of workers against a breaching employer to recover back pay plus liquidated damages in an amount equal to the wrongfully denied wages. WHD also can pursue injunctive relief against noncompliant employers.
When the employer is a repeat offender or willfully violated the FLSA, additional consequences attach. A violation is “willful” for purposes of FLSA criminal prosecution if it is deliberate, voluntary, and intentional. A fine of up to $10,000 on the first conviction
When an employer’s violation of the FLSA is repetitious or willful, the FLSA empowers WHD to impose civil money penalties (CMPs) against the noncompliant employer in addition to the recovery of back pay and liquidated damages. Intended to discourage future noncompliance by an employer guilty of violating the FLSA, CMPs for a “repeated” violation are assessable when the employer had previously violated the minimum wage or overtime requirements of the FLSA. CMPs for a “willful” violation may be assessed when it can be shown that the employer knew that its conduct was prohibited by the FLSA or showed reckless disregard for the requirements of the FLSA. CMPs ordinarily are imposed based on violations occurring within the normal two-year investigation period. Where violations are determined to be willful, the investigation will cover a three-year period.
The applicable 2018 CMP amounts, which are adjusted annually for inflation, are as follows:
|Type of Violation
||Maximum Civil Monetary Penalty on or before 1/2/2018
||Maximum Civil Monetary Penalty on or after 1/3/2018
Violation of recordkeeping, monetary, certificate or other statutes, regulations or employer assurances.
|29 USC 211(d)
||29 CFR 530.302
(1) Violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c));
|29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(i)
||29 CFR 570.140(b)(1) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(A)
|(2) Violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c)) that causes the serious injury or death of a minor;
||29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(ii)
||29 CFR 570.140(b)(2) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(B)
|(3) Willful or repeated violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c)) that causes the serious injury or death of a minor
||29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(ii)
||29 CFR 570.140(b)(2) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(B)
|(4) Repeated or willful violation of section 206 or 207.
||29 USC 216(e)
||29 CFR 579.1(a)(2)
|Minimum Wage and Overtime:
Repeated or willful violation of section 206 or 207.
|29 USC 216(e)(2)
||29 CFR 578.3(a)
Although typically reserved for more egregious violations, “willful” violations of the FLSA can trigger criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice. A fine of up to $10,000, or a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both, on all convictions after the first conviction
In addition to or instead of lawsuits by the Secretary of Labor for back wages or injunctive relief, willful violation of the FLSA also can trigger criminal prosecutions against an employer by the Department of Justice. Criminal penalties for willful FLSA violations include a fine of up to $10,000, or a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both, on all convictions after the first conviction. Since enforcement actions by the DOJ can be brought instead of or in addition to lawsuits by WHD for back wages or injunctive relief, an employer that willfully violates the FLSA can be ordered to pay liquidated damages and back-pay, as well as any court imposed criminal fine or penalty.
Always popular, WHD and private enforcement of the FLSA initially spiked upward following the highly publicized George W. Bush Administration’s implementation of updated FLSA “white collar” regulations regarding the classification of workers as exempt. The Obama Administration’s highly publicized, but unsuccessful, campaign to increase the minimum wage and aggressive FLSA educational outreach and enforcement further fueled this trend. While President Trump has opposed proposals to increase the federal minimum wage, he has expressed his commitment to protect workers’ FLSA rights through continued vigorous enforcement of the FLSA minimum wage, overtime and other rules.
As a result of its aggressive enforcement commitments, WHD takes credit for having recovered more than $1.2 billion in back wages on behalf of more than 1.3 million workers over the past five years. See here. The following WHD enforcement statistics reflect that its commitment to FLSA enforcement has continued during President Trump’s tenure in office.
||Cases with Violations
||Employees Receiving Back Wages(duplicated 1)
Pilot PAID Program May Offer New Option To Resolve WHD Exposures
When an audit uncovers potential violations, some employers may want to explore options to voluntarily resolve their exposures. To encourage voluntary compliance, the WHD on March 6, 2018 announced a new pilot self-audit Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program that offered employers accepted into the program after voluntarily disclosing violations to resolve their exposure WHD penalties and liquidated damages commonly assessed by WHD against employers for violating the FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations by:
- Voluntarily disclosing the violations to WHD before becoming subject to investigation or enforcement and requesting admission to the program;
- Paying affected workers 100 percent of the unpaid back pay due wrongfully denied by the end of the next full pay period after receiving the summary of unpaid wages from WHD confirming the back pay amount;
- Working with WHD prospectively to correct noncompliant practices; and
- Taking other actions to correct and prevent a recurrence of those violations.
Originally slated as a pilot program set to expire after six months, the PAID program remains an opportunity offered by WHD on its website, which also shares “testimonials” from various employers that report having participated in the PAID program.
While participation in the PAID program purpoerts to offer allows a participating employer to settle its exposure to prosecution for those violations by WHD without incurring some of themore extraordinary penalties that WHD is authorized to assess, many practitioners and employers report having achieved similar and in some cases even more favorable outcomes through negotiations conducted outside the PAID program. Furthermore, many employers may face challenges in using the program as a result of the inability to marshal the required capital to pay 100 percent of the back pay due within the required time period.
Beyond this challenge, employers evaluating whether to seek relief through the new PAID program also may need to weigh a variety of other concerns.
For instance, employers considering participation need to understand that the settlement only addresses potential liability from WHD enforcement. While WHD’s requirement that a participating employer pay affect 100 percent of any wrongfully denied back pay to the impacted employees generally would reduce the actual back pay damages recoverable by an employee in a private enforcement action, WHD says settlements reached with the WHD under the PAID program does not prevent employees wrongfully denied wages in violation of FSLA from bringing private lawsuits. Rather, WHD states that it will be purely the employee’s choice whether to accept the payment of back wages the employer agrees to pay under the PAID program settlement. If the employee chooses to not accept the payment, the employee will not release any private right of action. Additionally, if the employee chooses to accept the payment, the employee will not grant a broad release of all potential claims under the FLSA. Rather, the releases are tailored to only the identified violations and time period for which the employer is paying the back wages. The WHD also cautions that regardless of whether the employee accepts or rejects the back pay specified in the PAID program, the FLSA will prohibit employers from retaliating against the employee for his or her choice. Furthermore, while the payment of previously unpaid amounts could reduce the amount of unpaid wages for purposes of determining liability for state wage and hour law violations, the WHD settlement does not directly impact or release liability for any state wage and hour violations.
While any FLSA covered employer may use the program, interested employers should understand that acceptance into the program is not automatic and is not available for all FLSA violations. Rather, the PAID program only covers potential violations of the FLSA’s overtime and minimum wage requirements that an employer self-identifies and voluntarily discloses and resolves in accordance with its PAID program settlement with WHD. An employer cannot use the PAID program to resolve any issues for which WHD is already investigating the employer, or which the employer is already litigating in court, arbitration, or otherwise. An employer likewise may not initiate the process when an employee’s representative or counsel has already communicated an interest in litigating or settling the issue. Employers using the Paid program also must be prepared to correct the noncompliant practices that resulted in the violations settled under the PAID program. According to the WHD, WHD will not allow employers to use the program to repeatedly resolve the same violations, as this program is designed to identify and correct non-compliant practices. By allowing employers to participate in the PAID program, WHD also does not waive its right to conduct any future investigations of the employer.
Employers contemplating participation in the PAID program generally should conduct a self-audit after updating their understanding of WHD program and compliance assistance materials and other WHD guidance. Because the information, analysis and discussions conducted in this process may be legally sensitive, employers generally will want to engage qualified legal counsel before initiating these processes to advise and assist the employer about the adequacy and risks of its existing practices, recommendations for redressing known compliance issues and other risks as well as opportunities and procedures for qualifying certain of these actions and discussions for coverage under attorney-client privilege, attorney work product or other evidentiary protections.
Whether or not an employer decides based on the audit to pursue compliance resolution through the PAID program, employers generally should work with their legal counsel within the scope of attorney client privilege to organize and retain documentation of their audit, its findings of compliance and, for any potential compliance issues, corrective actions taken to redress those issues retrospectively and prospectively, and other documentation that the employer might need to pursue resolution under the PAID program or otherwise respond to and defend against a WHD or private charges brought by an employee in the future.
If the employer wishes to pursue resolution of potential violations under the PAID program based on review of the audit findings in conjunction with their legal counsel, the employer in coordination with the legal counsel within the scope of attorney client privilege should work together to prepare and assemble the records and information WHD will expect the employer to provide in the initial phases of the process including:
- A list of the specific potential violations uncovered
- The specific employees affected
- The specific timeframes in which each employee was affected, and
- The calculation of the amount of back wages the employer believes are owed to each employee.
- Each of the calculations described above—accompanied by both evidence and explanation concerning how the calculations were made;
- A concise explanation of the scope of the potential violations for possible inclusion in a release of liability;
- A certification that the employer reviewed all of the information, terms, and compliance assistance materials;
- A certification that the employer is not litigating the compensation practices at issue in court, arbitration, or otherwise, and likewise has not received any communications from an employee’s representative or counsel expressing interest in litigating or settling the same issues; and
- A certification that the employer will adjust its practices to avoid the same potential violations in the future.
After preparing this information, the employer generally will want to arrange for legal counsel to make the preliminary contact to the WHD to request that the WHD admit the employer to the PAID program. During the preliminary contact, the WHD will require that a list of the specific potential violations, and the identity, specific time frame and back pay amount that employer believes it owes to each affected employee as a prerequisite to considering the request for admission to the program. If the WHD approves the employer’s request, WHD will require that the employer or its legal counsel on its behalf provide the remaining information listed above. After evaluating this information, WHD will provide notification of the next steps, including the collection of any other information necessary for WHD to assess and confirm the back wages due for the identified violations.
Current published guidance states that after WHD assesses the back wages due, it will issue a summary of unpaid wages. WHD will also issue forms describing the settlement terms for each employee, which employees may sign to receive payment. The release of claims provided in the form will match the previously agreed-upon language and, again, must be limited to only the potential violations for which the employer had paid back wages. The PAID program settlement will require the employers to pay the back pay amounts confirmed in the summary of unpaid wages promptly and in full by the end of the next payroll period after receiving the WHD summary of wages confirming the back pay amounts required.
Audit & Act To Mitigate FLSA & Other Wage & Hour Risks
Regardless of whether an employer elects to pursue using the new PAID program, all FLSA covered employers generally should consult with legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege to assess the defensibility of 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, and about using the PAID program and 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 WHD, 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 con