Tag Archives: Florida

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

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

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

FMLA: Forgetting Minutiae Leads to (legal) Actions – Part II

As we continue through the convoluted maze of arcane rules known as the FMLA, we turn our focus to what makes an employee eligible for FMLA leave.

Generally, an employee of a covered employer is eligible to take FMLA leave, if the employee satisfies three requirements. They are:

(1)  the employee has been employed by the employer for at least 12 months;

(2)  the employee has been employed by the employer at least 1,250 hours of service during the 12-month period immediately preceding the commencement of the leave; and

(3)  the employee is employed at a worksite where 50 or more employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles of the worksite.

These requirements do not apply to flight attendants and flight crew members. Persons in such positions are subject to special eligibility requirements that are not covered in this series.

Although these three requirements may seem pretty straightforward, they are not as clear cut as they appear. Accordingly, below you will find a few questions and answers designed to assist in understanding the concept of the “covered employee.”

Does the 12 months of service have to be consecutive?

No. The 12 months of service need not be consecutive. Generally, any combination of 52 weeks equals 12 months. Even so, a seven year break in service with the employer generally cuts off any prior service except in certain limited circumstances. Such circumstances include, but are not limited to, military service covered by The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) or written agreement, including a collective bargaining agreement.

When should it be determined if the employee meets the months of service requirement?

The determination of whether an employee has been employed by the employer for a total of 12 months must be made as of the date the FMLA leave is to start.

How are the hours of service calculated?

The FLMA’s definition of “hours of service” applies for the calculation of 1,250 hours. Accordingly, hours of service does not include those hours for which an employee is paid but does not work, such as holidays, paid vacation, and sick leave. Hours worked does include time worked as a part-time, temporary, or seasonal employee.

An employee returning from USERRA-covered military service is credited with the hours of service that would have been performed but for the period of absence from work due to or necessitated by USERRA-covered service in determining the employee’s eligibility for FMLA-qualifying leave.

If an issue arises with respect to employee coverage, the Department of Labor takes the position that the employer has the burden of showing that the employee has not met the hours of service requirement.

When should it be determined if the employee meets the hours of service requirement?

The determination of whether an employee meets the hours of service requirement must be made as of the date the requested FMLA leave is to start.

How does an employer determine if there are 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of employee’s worksite?

First, it has to be determined where the employee’s worksite is. An employee’s worksite is the site where an employee reports. If the employee does not travel to a specific location to work, then the worksite is the location from where the employee receives assignments.

For employees with no fixed worksite (e.g., construction workers, transportation workers, salespersons), the worksite is the site that is assigned as their home base, from which their work is assigned, or to which they report. With very few exemptions, an employee’s personal residence is not considered a worksite.

The 75-mile distance is measured by surface miles, using surface transportation over public streets, roads, highways, and waterways, by the shortest route from the facility where the employee needing leave is employed.

While public-sector employers are covered regardless of the number of employees employed, to be an eligible employee entitled to take FMLA leave, the public-sector employee must still be employed at a worksite in which the employer employs at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

When should an employer determine if there are 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of employee’s worksite?

The determination of whether 50 employees are employed within 75 miles of the worksite is made when the employee gives notice of the need for leave.

What happens when an employee does not meet all three requirements until after the employee’s need for leave has begun?

An employee’s full FMLA rights are triggered as of FMLA eligibility. An employer cannot designate leave happening before the eligibility date as FMLA leave; and therefore, the employee becomes entitled to the full 12 weeks of FMLA leave in addition to any previously taken leave.

The first post in our series on FMLA summarized the steps an employer should follow when dealing with the FMLA labyrinth. The next FMLA posts in this series will address the FMLA’s original qualifying reasons for leave and then the qualifying reasons added in 2008.

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

FMLA: Forgetting Minutiae Leads to (legal) Actions

This post was co-authored by Jennifer Fowler-Hermes and John Getty.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (or the FMLA) is often viewed as a convoluted maze of arcane rules. Generally, the FMLA requires covered employers provide qualifying employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain qualifying events. This simple explanation belies how technical the FMLA can be. Because it is very technical, the FMLA is one of the laws that employers most frequently ask questions about. Taking one wrong turn can easily lead to employer liability. This post is the first in a series to help employers stay on the right path.

In this series, we will review not only the basics of the FMLA, but also several areas where employers often go astray. Our journey through the FMLA starts with a handy map summarizing the steps an employer should follow when dealing with the FMLA labyrinth.

Step 1:  An employer determines whether or not it is a covered employer.

Step 2:  If it is covered, an employer should then prepare and share an FMLA leave policy with its employees and must post certain notices to its employees.

Step 3: If an employee requests FMLA leave, or the employer learns that an employee’s absence may be for a qualifying reason, then a covered employer must determine whether the employee is eligible for FMLA leave. If the employee is not eligible, the employer must notify the employee of the decision and utilize the appropriate designation form. If the employee is eligible, the employer must proceed to the next step.

Step 4: Provide the employee eligibility and rights and responsibilities notices to the employee.

Step 5:  The employer must then determine if the leave request is for an FMLA-qualifying reason.

Step 6: The employer should determine whether the employee qualifies as a “key employee” for whom specialized rules apply. Key employees will be addressed in a separate post in this series.

Step 7: The employer may require the employee go through a certification process, which is optional.

  • If the certification process is utilized, then the employer should notify the employee about the certification and provide time for certification.

Step 8: The employer must either grant or deny the leave request and provide a designation notice to the employee.

Step 9: After leave is granted, then the employer must:

  • Restore the employee to the same or an equivalent position at the end of the leave (unless the employee is a “key” employee); and
  • Maintain benefits during the leave (with exemptions – which will be discussed later in the series).

Step 10: Maintain records for the entire decision-making process.

Because it’s part of the first step in navigating the FMLA maze, and it represents a core concept of the FMLA, below you will find a serious of questions and answers designed to assist in understanding the concept of the “covered employer.”

What is a covered employer? 

It’s an  employer that has legal obligations under the FMLA.

Who are covered employers?

There are a couple types of covered employers subject to the provisions of the FMLA. One of the main covered employers are private employers with 50 or more employees during 20 or more workweeks in the current or previous calendar year.

Public agencies, regardless of the number of employees the public agency employs (public agencies include state, local and federal employers, and local educational agencies), are also covered employers. In addition, public and private elementary and secondary schools are covered employers, regardless of the number of persons employed.

Finally, covered employers also include any person who acts in the interest of the employer toward any of the employees of such employer, and any successor in interest of the employer.

How does a private-employer count employees to determine coverage?

With few exemptions, any employee whose name appears on the employer’s payroll will be considered employed each working day of the calendar week and must be counted regardless of whether compensation is received for the week. However, employees added to the payroll after the beginning of a calendar week or terminated before the end of a calendar week are not counted.

There are special issues that arise when an employer does not by itself have the requisite number of employees but is considered a joint employer with a second company. For example, when two or more businesses exert control over the workplace or working conditions, it is possible that the employees of both businesses are counted together.

What about employees on paid or unpaid leave?

They are counted so long as the employer reasonably expects the employee to return later to active employment.

Does the same rule apply for employees on disciplinary suspensions?

Yes, again, so long as the employer reasonably expects the employee to return later to active employment, the employee is counted.

What about employees who are laid off?

Employees on temporary or permanent layoff are not counted.

The questions and answers above summarize the main issues with that crop up at Step 1.

*The next FMLA post in this series will skip ahead to Step 3 and address what makes someone an employee eligible for FMLA leave, since it is one of the other important concepts to understand while navigating the FMLA.

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

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

Let’s Try this Again: Department of Labor Proposes Salary Increases for White-Collar Exemptions

Please note: This post has been updated to reflect a corrected annual minimum salary threshold of $35,308 which represents a nearly $12,000 per year increase from the current salary requirement of $23,660.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a much-anticipated proposed rule addressing the “white-collar” exemptions for the Fair Labor Standards Act. If the proposed rule is enacted later this year, the new minimum salary threshold will be $35,308 per year (or $679 per week). This represents nearly a $12,000 per year increase from the current salary requirement of $23,660 (or $455 per week). Thus, once this new rule goes into effect, for an employee to be exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime rules, the employee’s salary will need to meet the new threshold.

Importantly though, the DOL will not be altering any other aspects of the “white-collar” exemption tests. It won’t be changing the various tests for executives, administrative staff, or professionals. Nor does the DOL’s new rule include periodic automatic increases to the minimum salary threshold as the Obama-era DOL had proposed before a district court stopped it in 2016.

Depending on how quickly the DOL moves through the rule-making process and issues the new rule, the new minimum salary threshold will likely go into place late summer or early fall of this year. For that reason, as they did in 2016 in response to the prior proposed increases, employers will want to begin evaluating their staff to determine who may be affected and determine how they want to proceed.  Additionally, because of this rule change, employers will also want to audit all of their employees to make sure each one is properly classified, and if not, take this opportunity to reclassify employees in a manner that tries to minimize liability for any past misclassifications.

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

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

What Are Your Company’s Business Resolutions for the New Year?

As 2019 approaches, many companies reflect on the year that has gone by, remembering both the triumphs and missteps. As this year comes to a close, many businesses will be making business resolutions for the new year. You may already have some goals set, but if you do not, this post will be the first in a series designed to provide insight into areas where companies may want to focus in the year ahead.

We will start this series off with our colleague John Hament’s recent article from our Requisite X publication, “Adapting to Change: Reinventing Employee Performance Management.” As explained in this article, for some employers there can be downsides to the traditional annual performance evaluation system. Recognizing these downsides, and ascertaining if a different approach is good for your organization, may be a worthwhile business resolution.

Stay tuned for more resolutions to consider in 2019.

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