Tag Archives: employees

Planning for Hurricane Season: Employee Pay During and After a Storm

With the onset of the 2019 hurricane season and the effects of Hurricanes Michael and Irma still being felt by many, employers have a number of concerns. These concerns range from preparing facilities to determining whether a business will stay open. At some point, after decisions have been made about whether a business will stay open and if goods or people need to be moved out of harm’s way, the questions relating to employee pay may arise.

One question that is frequently asked is “Should I pay exempt employees who miss work due to bad weather conditions?” When it comes to deductions from exempt employees’ salaries, it is easy to get into trouble. The general rule is that an exempt employee is entitled to receive his or her entire salary for any workweek he or she performed work. This means, if the work site closes for a partial week due to bad weather conditions (such as a hurricane) and the exempt employee has worked during that workweek, the employee is entitled to his or her full salary. However, if the employer has a leave benefit, such as PTO, and the employee has leave remaining, the employer can require the employee to use paid time off for this time away from work. If the employee does not have any remaining leave benefit, he or she must be paid.

If the work site remains open during inclement weather and an employee is absent (even if due to transportation issues), the employee can be required to use paid time off. If the employee does not have any paid time off remaining, the employer may deduct a full-day’s absence from the employee’s salary. For a more detailed explanation visit dol.gov.

Other issues that arise relate to what constitutes compensable time for non-exempt employees. The FLSA only requires that non-exempt employees be paid for the hours they actually work. However, those non-exempt employees on fixed salaries for fluctuating workweek(s) must be paid their full weekly salary in any week for which work was performed. Further, those businesses, such as hospitals and nursing homes that remain open during a storm and require employees to remain onsite during the storm may have to pay employees required to be onsite during a storm for all time they are at the employer’s place of business, as they may be considered to be “on call.”

It is important for businesses to start planning in advance for the next hurricane. Such plans should include evaluating which employees may be required to continue working during a storm and what portion of their time during a storm is considered compensable.

Healthcare employers also have ACHA rules to comply with relating to storm preparation (not specifically related to employee compensation). For further information on these regulations see my colleague Steven Brownlee’s article, “Senior Living Providers: Are You Ready for Andrea, Barry, and Chantal?

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

Avoiding Errors in the Match Game: Responding to the Rising Number of “No-Match” Letters

Starting late last year and continuing on the heels of tax season, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been sending employers Employer Correction Request Notices, also known as EDCOR notices or “no-match” letters. An example “no-match” letter is available at the SSA’s website. These “no-match” letters notify an employer that the information submitted on an employee’s W-2, such as the Social Security Number or SSN, does not match the SSA’s records. Even though it’s not conclusive evidence that an employee is not authorized to work in the United States, it can put an employer on notice of a possible issue, which can lead to potential compliance issues and liability under federal law. See our previous discussion here and here on recent Form I-9 compliance issues.

Of course, common discrepancies can also trigger a “no-match” letter, such as  unreported name changes, typos or input errors by the SSA, reporting errors by an employer or employee, errors in recognizing multiple last names or hyphenated last names, or identity theft.

In other words, “no-match” letters can arise because of simple administrative errors. Employers should not presume the “no-match” letter conveys information about an employee’s immigration status or authorization to work within the United States. Still, the “no-match” letters may also indicate that an individual provided false identification.

Employers must be cautious when dealing with a “no-match” letter. An overreaction—such as requesting excessive or unnecessary documentation from employees—can violate the anti-discrimination provisions in federal law, which generally prohibit discriminatory employment practices because an employee’s national origin, citizenship, or immigration status. Thus, an employer should not attempt to do any of the following after receiving a “no-match” letter:

  • Take any adverse employment action against an employee subject to a “no-match” letter, including—but not limited to—firing, demoting, cutting hours, reducing the wages of, or writing up such an employee;
  • Follow different procedures for different classes of employees based on the employees’ respective national origin or citizenship status;
  • Require the employee immediately provide a written report that the SSA verified the requisite information (primarily because the SSA may not ever provide such a report);
  • Immediately reverify the employee’s eligibility to work by requesting a new Form I-9 based solely on the “no-match” letter; or
  • Require an employee produce any specific I-9 documents, such as a Social Security card, to address the no-match issue.

The question then becomes: How should employer respond to a “no-match” letter?

Unfortunately, the letters usually do not identify the employees for whom the SSA finds there is a “no-match” issue. To determine which employees’ information is at issue, an employer must first register with the SSA’s Business Service Online website. Through that website, an employer can then compare the employee names and SSN information in its files against the SSA’s records to make sure the information was correctly submitted, and no typographical error occurred. If an employer determines it misreported the information, it can issue a correction through an updated IRS Form W-2C. An employer generally has 60 days from receipt of the “no-match” letter to issue a Form W-2C to make corrections if that is the cause of the “no-match.”

Should an employer determine that it properly reported the information, then the employer will need to further investigate and may want to seek guidance from counsel before taking further action.

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

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

Form I-9 Audits Soared in Fiscal 2018 – Be Ready for More of the Same! (Part II)

As we mentioned in Part I of this post, this year the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will continue to focus on the use of Form I-9 audits and other strategies to encourage employers’ compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).

How do employers know if Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has initiated an audit or administrative inspection of their businesses? The inspection process begins with HSI serving a Notice of Inspection (NOI) on an employer compelling production of Forms I-9 and frequently other supporting documentation such as payroll reports, a list of current employees, articles of incorporation, and business licenses. Employers have at least three business days to produce the Forms I-9, after which HSI will conduct an inspection for compliance following ICE’s inspection process, give the employer 10 days to correct technical or procedural violations, and assess applicable fines and penalties.

Form I-9 best practice tips for employers include:

  • Establish a uniform written Form I-9 compliance policy and train staff accordingly.
  • Avoid discrimination claims by educating staff on the appropriate way to verify documents and treat all job applicants the same regardless of their citizenship or immigration status or their national origin.
  • Put in place a “tickler” system to notify HR staff of upcoming re-verifications for individuals that possess temporary employment authorization.
  • Establish a best practice method for proper cataloging and retention of Forms I­-9—separate former and active employees’ Forms I-9.
  • Keep Forms I-9 organized and separate from general personnel files. Establish a consistent policy regarding obtaining and retaining copies of verified documents.
  • Purge old Forms I-9s that are past the retention period on an annual basis (three years from date of hire or one year after termination, whichever is longer).
  • Conduct routine formalized self-audits and document each internal audit, preferably with guidance from legal counsel.
  • Call legal counsel immediately if you are served with a Notice of Inspection as the time to respond is short and it is critical to submit well-organized documents only after receiving legal advice.
  • Do not consent to an immediate inspection if agents arrive without warning – employers have three days to submit documents.
  • Only submit what is requested – nothing extra.
  • Do not let agents take original records without retaining copies.
  • Do not allow agents to talk with any employees or company officers before contacting legal counsel.
  • If the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) agents arrive for an inspection of Forms I-9 without notice, decline the inspection. They will notify ICE.  (Note – if DOL agents seek to inspect wage and hour or FMLA records, decline the inspection and contact your legal counsel to schedule it at a convenient time.)
  • If U.S. Department of Justice Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) agents arrive for an inspection of Forms I-9 without notice or deliver notice of intent to conduct a worksite enforcement audit, call legal counsel immediately to help coordinate a response. See also IER’s Employer Best Practices During Worksite Enforcement Audits.

Gail E. Farb
gfarb@williamsparker.com
941-552-2557

No Fooling: DOL Proposes New Rule to Determine Joint-Employer Status

As a rule of thumb, skepticism is in order for any news blasted out on April Fool’s Day. For that reason, you could easily believe that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) was joining in the tomfoolery this year when it issued a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on April 1, 2019 to address joint employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), but, that wasn’t the case.

Through its April 1, 2019 notice, the DOL seeks to revise regulations on joint employment issues. A joint employer is any additional individual or entity who is equally liable with the employer for the employee’s wages, including minimum wages and overtime. Presently, the regulations state that multiple persons or companies can be joint employers if they are “not completely disassociated” with respect to the employment of an employee. The phrase “not completely disassociated” is not clearly explained in the regulations, which has led to thorny issues when dealing with the employees of subcontractors, franchisees, and similar relationships.

To address such issues, the DOL proposes a four-factor analysis that considers whether the employer actually exercises the power to:

  • Hire and fire an employee;
  • supervise and control an employee’s work schedules or conditions of employment;
  • determine the employee’s rate and method of payment; and
  • maintain the employee’s employment records.

The DOL indicates that there are other factors that should and should not be considered. It also clarifies certain business models and practices or contractual language that does not make a joint employer status more or less likely. A Fact Sheet issued with this proposed rule does a fair job of summarizing the other factors. For example, the DOL indicates that just because a company reserves the right in a contract to exercise control over another company’s workers does not—by itself—make a company more or less likely to be considered a joint employer. Rather, a company must actually exercise the contractual control to become a joint employer. Likewise, the DOL notes that just because a company can require another contracting party to institute anti-harassment policies, workplace safety measures, or wage floors does not make it more or less likely the two companies are joint employers.

The April 1, 2019 notice began the notice-and-comment process. The DOL will accept comments from interested parties for 60 days. The public will be able to provide electronic comments at www.regulations.gov (after searching for RIN no. 1235-AA26) or via mail addressed to:

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

(identifying in the written comment (1) the Wage and Hour Division, United States Department of Labor; and (2) RIN no. 1235-AA26).

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

Form I-9 Audits Soared in Fiscal 2018 – Be Ready for More of the Same!

In 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will continue to focus on the use of Form I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage employers’ compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), along with criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly violate IRCA.

Last year ICE I-9 audits increased by 340 percent, resulting in 779 criminal arrests of employers; 1,525 administrative arrests of unauthorized employees; and more than $10.2 million in judicial fines, forfeitures, and restitutions. While most employers do not intentionally falsify Forms I-9 or knowingly accept fraudulent documents from employees, employers’ honest mistakes related to Forms I­9 can be costly. Civil fines, per form with one or more mistakes, range from $216 to $2,156. Thus, the same mistake made on each form could increase the fine exponentially. Moreover, do not forget that the U.S. Department of Justice Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) also conducts Form I-9 audits to ensure that businesses are not engaging in citizenship discrimination.

Employers should protect their businesses by ensuring Form I-9 compliance programs are in place, up-to-date, and followed. For instance, employers should confirm they are using the current form, which has an August 31, 2019 expiration date, and properly following the instructions. Take care to avoid common Form I-9 mistakes, such as an employee’s failure to sign or date the form or the employer’s failure to complete Section 2 by the third business day after the date the employee begins employment. For guidance from ICE regarding Form I-9, visit “I-9 Central” or review ICE’s list of Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

Also, employers should conduct routine Form I-9 internal audits and properly remedy identified errors in order to be legally compliant and to help avoid liability should ICE or IER select your company for an inspection. See Guidance for Employers Conducting Internal Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 Audits.

In the next couple of weeks, part II of this post will address the ICE inspection process.

Gail E. Farb
gfarb@williamsparker.com
941-552-2557

Another Business Resolution: Conduct a Pay Audit in 2019

Pay Audits are different from wage and hour audits. A wage and hour audit looks at whether employees are being paid in compliance with state and federal wage and hour laws. A pay audit reviews whether there may be discrimination in pay practices within an organization. With the #metoo movement and a renewed focus on pay gaps, an internal review of pay practices could save a business from liability under the primary statutes used to combat discriminatory pay gaps – Title VII, the Florida Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Pay Act.

As with other types of claims brought under state and federal discrimination statutes, a claim of disparate pay based on any protected characteristic is subject to the same administrative filing requirement and provides the same remedies as a wrongful termination case. On the other hand, under the Equal Pay Act (which only covers disparities based on gender), there is not an administrative filing requirement, and the definitions and statute of limitations for an employee to bring a claim is the same as those in place for the Fair Labor Standards Act. Further, Equal Pay Act claims do not require proof of intent to discriminate on the part of the employer. And, not having intent as a requirement makes it easier for an employee/former employee to establish a prima facie case. Under the Equal Pay Act, an employee need only show that she works at the same location, performs substantially equal work (regardless of job title), works under substantially equal working conditions, and is paid less than a male counterpart.

In a perfectly competitive labor market, the value an employee contributes to a business should determine that employee’s wage. However, in the real world, there are disparities of income that may be due to differences in labor productivity, and there are wage disparities across genders and ethnicities. When it comes to gender, disparities may be due to:

  • Compensating wage differentials: men may be employed in more dangerous or “dirty” jobs that pay more
  • Choice of college major and choice of career
  • Time constraints: mothers may have only limited time to pursue career advancement
  • Different negotiating skills of men and women
  • The number of years of work experience
  • The number of years in continuous employment
  • The number of hours spent at work
  • Employer discrimination

As set forth above, employer discrimination is only one of several reasons why a gap may exist and employers may have pay gaps that are based on non-discriminatory reasons.  Both the civil rights statutes and the Equal Pay Act provide several defenses to claims of discriminatory pay. Employers can avoid liability by proving the pay differential is due to one of the following reasons:

  • Seniority System
  • Merit Pay System
  • System that measures quality or quantity of work
  • Factor based on any factor other than sex  (this is considered a “catch all” defense)

It is good for employers to be aware of any gaps that exist in its pay practices and understand why they exist. When an employer does not have an explanation, that is when litigation and potential liability can ensue. Below are a few ways that businesses can help prevent (and if necessary defend) discrimination in pay claims:

  • Evaluate all forms of compensation (starting salary, benefits, bonuses, shift differentials, overtime, training opportunities, separation pay, etc.) at least annually for potential pay disparities based on race/ethnicity and gender
    • Evaluate how pay raises and bonuses are determined to ensure that decisions are made in a non-discriminatory manner.
    • Evaluate how you assign your employees to specific jobs.
    • Focus on job recruitment, placement and how pay is assigned to job classes.
  • In addition to an annual assessment, throughout the year conduct periodic “spot” checks for potential compensation problems.
  • Correct problems as soon as they are discovered.
  • Evaluate how women and minorities are placed in your workforce. Do not make assumptions about what they can or cannot do.
    • Does your hiring process seek diversity in the qualified applicant pool?
    • Do you offer career training or opportunities for both genders?
    • If starting salaries and signing bonuses are negotiated, ensure that such a practice does not have an adverse impact on women or minority workers.
    • Evaluate whether all workers have equal opportunity for advancement. Placing one gender in areas that lead to greater advancement could be a violation of law.
  • Periodically review your performance evaluation process and the ratings given to each employee to determine whether the process or the ratings unfairly disadvantage women, or any other protected classes.

This post is part of a series of business resolutions to consider for the new year. In case you missed them, our previous posts in the series discussed Florida minimum wageemployee performance management, and employee handbook/wage audits.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558

Business Resolutions: Ensuring Your Business Starts the New Year Off Right

When was the last time that your business had a wage audit to evaluate whether your employees are properly classified under the Fair Labor Standards Act, or had your employee handbook reviewed and revised to bring it up-to-date with the law and current company practices? If it has been a few years, then this may be the year that your business resolves to invest in a wage audit and/or handbook review.

Wage audits include an evaluation of your job positions, pay and overtime policies, as well as payroll records of each position within an organization or department. Sometimes, audits can also include interviews with employees to ascertain if there are any issues that management should be aware of. Audits can reveal if a business has any issues with, not only misclassification of employees as exempt when they should be non-exempt, but whether managers are following the organization’s policies regarding overtime. As a company grows and changes, often the duties of its employees also change. Sometimes these changes are significant enough that a change in classification is in order and a failure to adjust the classification could result in liability. Further, a wage audit can often help to determine if an organization’s accountant or payroll company is calculating overtime in accordance with the applicable regulations. Many a lawsuit are filed against employers who believe that since they have enlisted the assistance of a third party, employee overtime is being calculated appropriately. That is not always the case.

Employee handbooks should be reviewed every couple of years, not only to ensure that the handbook reflects the current state of the law, but also that it reflects the actual practices of a company. Businesses grow and change, and actual practices can start to diverge from what is reflected in the handbook. It is always better to have a handbook that provides policies and procedures that the company is currently using and enforcing. It is never recommended for a company to have policies that it does not follow.

This post is part of a series of business resolutions to consider for the new year. In case you missed them, our previous posts in the series discussed Florida minimum wage and employee performance management.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558

Another Business Resolution: Ensure Your Business Implements Florida’s New Minimum Wage

The next suggested resolution in our series of business resolutions is one that all businesses in Florida should implement, as it is legally required. On January 1, 2019, Florida’s minimum wage will increase from $8.25 to $8.46 an hour. Employers should be prepared to make appropriate pay adjustments for their minimum wage earners. Failing to pay non-exempt employees Florida’s statutory minimum wage can result in claims against employers pursuant to Section 24, Article X of the State Constitution and Section 448.110, Florida Statutes. The maximum tip credit ($3.02) that can be taken by Florida employers with tipped employees will remain the same, but the direct wage paid to tipped employees will increase from $5.23 to $5.44 an hour.

In addition to raising the minimum wage, Florida employers are required to post a minimum wage notice in a conspicuous and accessible location. You can download the 2019 Florida Minimum Wage Notice from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s website. This notice requirement is in addition to the requirement that employers post regarding the federal minimum wage (which has not been increased). There will also be commercially available Florida-specific “all-in-one posters” that satisfy both the federal and state notice requirements.

In case you missed it, our first business resolution of this series covered employee performance management.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558

Nonprofits Misuse of Volunteers During the Holidays Can Be Frightful

Although every penny saved may help support a valuable cause, it is important that an organization not let its use of volunteers lead to legal liability. Volunteers are the foundation upon which many successful nonprofits are built. Properly utilized, volunteers enable a nonprofit to devote valuable capital and resources elsewhere in the organization, allowing it to have a greater impact on its desired cause. Although the work of volunteers is valuable to a nonprofit’s mission, an organization’s management must exercise caution in engaging volunteers to ensure the nonprofit does not inadvertently misclassify individuals as volunteers when they may be considered employees under applicable law. With the holidays upon us, nonprofit organizations often rely more heavily on volunteers. Consequently, they should take extra care that its volunteers are not in fact employees.

As Ryan Portugal explains in our latest edition of Requisite, which focuses on issues related to the operation, management, and sustainability of nonprofit organizations, circumstances in which a volunteer will be treated as an employee under wage and hour laws can have costly legal ramifications for nonprofit organizations.

Read the full article. 

For more articles, giving data, and an interview with A.G. Lafley, view the digital version of Requisite X – The Nonprofit Edition.