Once More, With Feeling: Proposed Increase to Minimum Salary for Highly Compensated Employees

As previously reported, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a proposed rule addressing exemptions for bona fide executive, administrative, professional, and outside sales employees (the “white-collar” exemptions”) under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Presuming the rule goes into effect, the new minimum salary threshold for these employees will be $35,308 per year (or $679 per week).

Beyond changing the minimum salary threshold for the “white-collar” exempt employees, the DOL also proposed increasing the exemption threshold for a smaller category of employees: “highly-compensated” employees. Previously, any employee whose primary duty was performing office or non-manual work and who customarily and regularly performed at least one duty or had at least responsibility of a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional employee could be exempt–if the employee made at least $100,000 a year and received at least $455 each week on a salary or fee basis. In essence, the “highly-compensated” employees exemption combines a high compensation requirement with a less-stringent, more-flexible duties test in comparison to those used under the “white-collar” exemptions.

Like the DOL’s proposed changes to the “white-collar” exemption, the DOL’s proposed changes to the “highly-compensated” exemption does not alter the duties requirements. Rather, the DOL proposes an increase to the annual and weekly salary thresholds. But in this instance, the increase is substantial. The proposed new threshold jumps from $100,000 under the current rules up to $147,414, of which $679 must be paid weekly on a salary or fee basis. That is an approximate 50 percent increase, and it is about $13,000 higher than what had been previously proposed when changes were considered in 2016.

Now, despite the change raising eyebrows, one could question whether it would have significant impacts because most workers paid $100,000 or more often already fall into one or more of the other exemptions. The DOL itself acknowledges in the proposed rulemaking that it estimates only about 201,100 workers nationwide would become eligible for overtime due to this salary increase. In comparison, the DOL expects the “white-collar” salary change will impact approximately 1.1 million workers nationwide.

The common view remains that the new minimum salary thresholds will likely go into place later this year (2019) but likely no later than January 1, 2020. Although that later date is almost seven months away, that deadline is rapidly approaching. Hence, it is worth reiterating that employers should begin evaluating their staff to determine who, if anyone, may be affected and determine how to proceed. Similarly, this rule change provides employers an opportunity to audit all of their employees (even those unaffected by the proposed rule changes) to make sure each one is properly classified. And if they are not, employers can time any reclassifications with those made to meet the new rule changes to possibly minimize bringing attention to and potential liability for any past misclassifications.

In the meantime, the DOL will accept comments from interested parties until May 21, 2019 at 11:59 PM ET. The public will be able to provide electronic comments at regulations.gov (after searching for RIN no. 1235-AA20) or via mail to the address below (identifying in the written comment (1) the Wage and Hour Division, United States Department of Labor; and (2) RIN no. 1235-AA20).

Division of Regulations, Legislation, and Interpretation
Wage and Hour Division
U.S. Department of Labor, Room S-3502
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

John C. Getty
jgetty@williamsparker.com
(941) 329-6622