Tag Archives: Employers

Leave for Family of Members of the Armed Forces Deployed to a Foreign Country (Part V of FMLA Series)

In light of recent military deployments, employers should be reminded of Qualifying Exigency Leave provided for by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). We have been posting a series about navigating the complex maze that is the FMLA. At this time, we are now taking a turn down this multicursal puzzle to address the first of two specific types of leaves that are only available for family members of covered service members, the Qualifying Exigency Leave. In Part VI of this series, we will address leave to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.

Eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave because of a qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a military member on covered active duty (or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty status). This leave is provided for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Short-notice deployment
  2. Military events and related activities
  3. Childcare and school activities
  4. Financial and legal arrangements
  5. Counseling
  6. Rest and recuperation
  7. Post-deployment activities
  8. Parental care
  9. Additional activities

What is covered active status?

This means the deployment of the member with the Armed Forces to a foreign country under a Federal call or order to active duty in support of a contingency operation during a war or national emergency declared by the President or Congress.

How can an employer verify the military member’s covered active duty status?

The employer can contact the Department of Defense.

When a parent is seeking leave related to a child’s active military duty, is there an age limit?

No.

What is a short-notice deployment?

It is when the military member is notified of an impending call to covered active duty seven or less calendar days from the date of deployment.

What events and related activities qualify for exigency leave?

Any official ceremony, program, or event sponsored by the military that is related to the covered active duty or call to covered active duty status of the military member; and to attend family support or assistance programs and informational briefings sponsored or promoted by the military, military service organizations, or the American Red Cross that are related to the covered active duty or call to covered active duty status of the military member.

Similarly, what childcare and school activities qualify for exigency leave?

  • Arranging for alternative childcare for a child of the military member when the covered active duty or call to covered active duty necessitates a change in childcare arrangement
  • Providing childcare for a child of the military member on an urgent, immediate need basis (but not routine everyday basis)
  • Enrolling or transferring a child of the military member to a new school or day care facility
  • Attending meetings with staff at a school or daycare facility, such as meetings with school officials regarding disciplinary measures, parent-teacher conferences, and meetings with school counselors

Can leave taken for childcare and school activities apply to adult children of military members?

No, for the purposes of these qualifying exigencies, the child of the military member must be either under the age of 18 or, if over 18, incapable of self care because of a mental or physical disability at the time that FMLA leave is to commence.

What type of financial or legal arrangements are covered?

Those required to address the military member’s absence while on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status, such as financial and healthcare powers of attorney, transferring bank account signature authority, obtaining military ID cards, or preparing/updating a will or living trust.

Is there a limit to the amount of exigency leave that can be taken for rest and recuperation?

Yes. The limit is 15 calendar days to spend time with a military member who is on short term temporary Rest and Recuperation leave during deployment.

Are there requirements on who can step in to assist with the care of a military member’s parent?

Yes. Although the employee taking leave does not need to be related to the military member’s parent, the military member must be the parent, spouse, or child of the person taking leave.

Does entitlement to exigency leave end when the deployment is over?

No, arrival ceremonies, reintegration briefings and events, and any other official ceremony or program sponsored by the military are covered if within 90 days following the termination of the military member’s covered active duty status. Further, issues that arise from the death of a military member while on covered active duty status, such as making funeral arrangements and attending funeral services are also covered.

What if there are other issues that arise from a military member’s covered active duty that are not specifically spelled out in the regulations?

They may be covered, if the employer and employee agree that such leave qualifies as an exigency and agree to both the timing and duration of such leave.

As noted above, the first post in our series on FMLA summarized the steps an employer should follow when dealing with the FMLA labyrinth and addressed which employers are covered by the Act. The second post explained which employees are eligible for FMLA leave. The third post addressed FMLA leave for the birth or adoption of a child. The fourth post  addressed issues related to an employee taking leave for his or a family member’s serious health condition. The next post in the FMLA series will address to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.

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

Florida’s 2020 Minimum Wage Increase

On January 1, 2020, Florida’s minimum wage increased from $8.46 to $8.56 an hour ($12.84 for overtime). If employers have not already done so, they should make appropriate pay adjustments for their minimum wage earners. Employers with minimum wage employees (including tipped employees) that have already issued their first payroll for the year without this ten-cent adjustment, should remedy any underpayment as soon as possible but no later than the next payroll by providing the pay difference, including any additional overtime, for the prior workweek.

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 $5.44 to $5.54 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 2020 Florida Minimum Wage Notice from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s website. This notice is in addition to the requirement that employers post a notice 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.

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

A Reminder on How to Avoid the Naughty List When it Comes to Office Holiday Parties

Although the Mad Men days of the sexy secretary sitting on Santa’s lap (the boss’s lap) with his arms wrapped around her while both are drinking a dry martini SHOULD be a vestige of the past, there are those that believe that “keep your hands to yourself” does not apply to them.  And, there are those that understand the “hands-off” rule, yet when under the influence of alcohol, find their inhibitions on the copy room floor.

This year, with stories of sexual harassment and abuse continuing to make headlines (think Tony Robbins, Bryan Singer, and Les Moonves), it is more important than ever for employers to consider the potential risks associated with any planned celebration. Employers should keep in mind that office policies that are generally recognized in the workplace sometimes are forgotten when there is a party, especially a party with libations. A holiday office party can embolden inappropriate behavior, from simple innuendos to unwelcome touching that could lead to claims of sexual harassment. The office holiday party can be a quagmire of potential employment issues, even beyond sexual harassment. These issues can include claims due to on-the-job injuries (workers compensation), unpaid wages for attending the party (the Fair Labor Standards Act), or other types of workplace harassment or discrimination (e.g. religion).

As you prepare for your office party, consider whether alcohol should be available, as most issues arise due to someone bending the elbow a bit too much. If you do decide to provide spirits make sure you have someone (a designated responsible adult) that is watching to ensure that your workforce does not get too “relaxed” and cross the line. Possibly limit how much alcohol is served and make sure any employee that drinks a little too much has a ride home. Evaluate in advance whether the party is going to be mandatory or not. If its voluntary and employees do not feel compelled to attend, then employers are not required to compensate employees for their attendance. Review the plans for the party in advance to see if there are any activities that could be considered inappropriate or offensive to members of any protected class.  Finally, make sure that employees understand that the company’s policies and procedures, especially those related to conduct, are still in effect at the party. Most parties are benign and conclude with no real issues to speak of, but you don’t want to be the exception to the rule. You do not want your CEO or VP added to the naughty list.

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

BREAKING NEWS: Final Overtime Rule Released

Employers, the long wait is over. You finally have an answer regarding whether the federal overtime regulations are going to be changed. As discussed in our earlier blog posts Let’s Try this Again: Department of Labor Proposes Salary Increases for White-Collar Exemptions and Once More, With Feeling: Proposed Increase to Minimum Salary for Highly Compensated Employees, in March 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor abandoned its 2016 attempt to increase the salary threshold for exempt employees when it issued a much-anticipated proposed rule. On September 24, 2019, the DOL formally rescinded the 2016 rule and issued its new final overtime rule.

The new rule, taking effect on January 1, 2020, increases the earnings thresholds necessary to exempt executive, administrative, professional, and highly compensated employees from the Fair Labor Standard Act’s overtime pay requirements from the levels that had been set in 2004.  Specifically, the new final rule:

  • Increases the “standard salary level” from $455 to $684 per week (equivalent to $35,568 per year for a full-year worker);
  • Raises the total annual compensation level for “highly compensated employees” from $100,000 to $107,432 per year; and
  • Revises the special salary levels for workers in U.S. territories and in the motion picture industry.

And, for the first time, the final rule allows employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) that are paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10 percent of the standard salary level for executive, administrative, and professional employees (not highly compensated employees).

Employers take note, however, that the new final rule does not change the duties portions of the otherwise affected exemptions. For more information about the new final rule, you can go to the Department of Labor website.

As New Year’s Day will be here before we know it, this is a good time for employers to audit their pay practices to make sure that employees are properly classified, update timekeeping and payroll systems, and train reclassified employees on new processes before the new rule takes effect.

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

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