Articles Posted in Wage and Hour

Lev Craig

Last September, we reported on a new Seattle worker scheduling law that was created to address the erratic and unpredictable schedules that often plague retail, restaurant, and fast-food workers. On May 30, 2017, New York City passed similar legislation for fast-food and retail workers when Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law the “Fair Work Week” legislative package, a group of five bills which create several new requirements for NYC fast-food and retail employers. The Fair Work Week laws were passed to aid the tens of thousands of NYC workers who are, as Mayor de Blasio stated, “forced to deal with an arbitrary schedule at a job where they still don’t always make ends meet.”

The Fair Work Week package, which will go into effect on November 26, 2017, aims to ensure more stable and predictable schedules and paychecks for workers by setting restrictions on how and when fast-food and retail employers can schedule employees for work. The city introduced the Fair Work Week initiative last year—as we reported last fall—to address issues related to “flexible scheduling,” a problematic practice which often affects low-wage workers such as fast-food and retail employees. “Flexible scheduling” policies exploit workers by requiring them to be “on call” for work, with no guarantee of actually being assigned hours, or forcing them to accept an employer’s decision to cancel, shorten, or otherwise alter their shift with little or no notice.

Owen H. Laird

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are undoubtedly aware of the multi-year effort to raise the salary threshold for the purposes of overtime exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act. If you are not a regular reader, then the previous sentence may not have made much sense.

To refresh: the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law that provides for minimum wage, overtime pay, and other wage-and-hour rights. The FLSA requires employers to pay their employees overtime pay – that is, pay at one-and-a-half times their normal rate – for all hours worked above forty (40) per workweek. However, the FLSA creates a number of exemptions to the overtime pay requirement: categories of workers who are not entitled to overtime pay, even if they work more than forty hours in a workweek. For example, employers are not required to provide overtime pay to certain “exempt” employees: people with professional degrees, managers, executives, artists, administrators, and many tech workers, to name a few. However, in order to qualify as exempt, an employee needs to earn as much or more than the “salary threshold,” which is currently $455 per week, or $23,660 per year. In other words, a manager who earns less than $455 a week would be entitled to overtime pay, while a manager who earns more than $455 a week would not, even if their job duties are identical.

By Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Last month, President Trump laid out a tax cut plan that, among other things, would lower the corporate tax rate to fifteen percent from the current rate of thirty-five percent. This reduction in the corporate tax rate is one of the most significant changes proposed by Trump; his plan would primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy. Although President Trump is constantly in the headlines, even to the extent that a signature tax proposal is overshadowed, it is important to pay attention to the less sensational actions taken by the Trump administration that will have long-lasting effects on the American public.

A recent article in the New York Times delved into potential effect of the drastic cut to the corporate tax rate: if the corporate tax rate is significantly less than the personal income tax rate, individuals would be incentivized to form corporations and pass any income they earned through that corporate entity, forsaking the traditional employee-employer relationship. Many workers are already considered “independent contractors” rather than employees. If these independent contractors formed a C-corporation and ran their income through it, that income would be taxed at the corporate rate, rather than the normal individual rate. If the tax incentives were high enough, whole classes of workers might choose to restructure their employment by becoming independent contractors and incorporate themselves in order to lower their tax burdens.

Lev Craig

On May 2, 2017, the Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1180, or the “Working Families Flexibility Act.” The bill, which will now move to the U.S. Senate for consideration, would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to enable employers to offer employees accrued paid time off for overtime hours worked, in place of cash wages.

The act would amend § 207 of the FLSA to add a provision stating that “[a]n employee may receive, […] in lieu of monetary overtime compensation, compensatory time off at a rate not less than one and one-half hours for each hour of employment for which overtime compensation is required.” In other words, the law would allow employees to choose between receiving overtime premium pay and accruing compensatory time off, or “comp time,” for any hours worked over 40 in a work week. According to the terms of the bill, employers cannot force employees to accrue comp time rather than receive overtime pay, and the employer and employee must enter into a written agreement in order for the employee to use the comp time option. Employees’ accrued comp time would be capped at 160 hours, which the employee would be allowed to cash out for its monetary value at any time, and employers would be required to pay employees the cash value of any unused time at the end of the year.

Lev Craig

On April 12, 2017, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision in Saleem v. Corporate Transportation Group, Ltd., finding that a group of black-car drivers had been properly classified as independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Law (NYLL). The court held that the drivers’ significant degree of independence prevented them from establishing that they were employees within the meaning of the FLSA or NYLL.

Under New York law, black cars are defined as a “type of for‐hire vehicle (along with livery vehicles and limousines) that provide ground transportation by prearrangement with customers.” The Saleem plaintiffs are a group of black-car drivers serving clients throughout the tri-state area; the defendants were operators and administrators of a black-car dispatch, which sells black-car franchises to individual drivers and refers the dispatcher’s clients to the driver. Each driver signed an agreement with a franchisor, stating that the driver was not an “employee or agent” but instead a “subscriber to [the franchisor’s] services offered,” that the driver would “at all times be free from [the franchisor’s] control or direction,” and that the franchisor would not “control, supervise or direct” the driver’s work. The agreements did not prohibit drivers from transporting customers for other companies, including competitors, but did require that drivers comply with policies set out by each franchisor, such as rules concerning dress code and vehicle cleanliness.

Lev Craig

On March 13, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed the district court’s granting of summary judgment in O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, an unpaid overtime case brought by delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy (“Oakhurst”), a Maine local milk and cream company. The First Circuit found that the district court had incorrectly categorized the drivers as exempt from overtime under an ambiguous section of the Maine state wage-and-hour law—all, as First Circuit Judge David J. Barron wrote in the O’Connor opinion, “[f]or want of a comma.”

The O’Connor plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Maine in May 2014, seeking unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the overtime provisions of the Maine state wage-and-hour statute, 26 M.R.S.A. § 664(3). They alleged that Oakhurst had misclassified them as exempt under Exemption F of the Maine state overtime law, which states that employees engaged in “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of […] [p]erishable foods” do not receive overtime protections.

Shelby Krzastek

On November 23, 2016, a jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs in Ridgeway v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., finding that the retail giant Wal-Mart owed approximately 850 former Wal-Mart truck drivers back pay for hours worked for which they had not been compensated. These hours included time spent on pre- and post-trip inspections, 10-minute rest breaks, and mandatory 10-hour layovers. The jury awarded the drivers $55 million, with the bulk of the award earmarked for Wal-Mart’s failure to pay drivers the minimum wage for the aforementioned mandatory layovers.

The Ridgeway decision came out of the Northern District of California, where the case was approved for class certification and ultimately tried. Plaintiffs claimed that Wal-Mart failed to pay its truck drivers the minimum wage and failed to pay them for all work done. The drivers alleged that Wal-Mart’s compensation scheme, which paid drivers based on activities performed rather than hours worked, meant that drivers were not paid the minimum wage for all hours worked. The payment structure calculated wages for drivers based on mileage, activity pay, and non-activity pay; “activity pay” refers to pay for regular compensable job duties, and “non-activity pay” to pay for events at Wal-Mart dispatch and home offices, as well as unplanned events.

Lev Craig

Last week, a Texas federal district court granted a temporary injunction in State of Nevada v. U.S. Department of Labor, blocking the implementation of a new Department of Labor (DOL) overtime regulation that was previously scheduled to go into effect today, December 1, 2016.

The new regulation was developed in response to a 2014 directive from President Obama to the Secretary of Labor, instructing the DOL to revise federal regulations for executive, administrative, and professional overtime exemptions, aiming to ensure that the salary threshold for these exemptions—i.e., the minimum annual salary an employee must make before they could possibly be considered “exempt” from overtime requirements—more accurately reflected current income distribution.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Protesters across the United States engaged in coordinated demonstrations yesterday, demanding an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Activists took to the streets in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and many other U.S. cities on the four-year anniversary of the launch of the “Fight for 15” campaign, initially begun by the Service Employees International Union in 2012.

The efforts of the Fight for 15 movement have resulted in increases in the minimum wage in various municipalities for some workers. For example, in New York, where the Fight for 15 campaign began, the New York Department of Labor has implemented a series of annual increases to raise the minimum wage. These increases mean that fast food workers in New York City will earn a minimum wage of $15 an hour by 2019, and fast food workers across New York State will earn $15 an hour by 2021.

Shelby Krzastek

On September 7, 2016, the New York State Department of Labor (“NYDOL”) enacted a regulation setting the conditions by which employers in New York State can pay wages to their employees. The final regulation details the four permissible methods for paying employee wages—cash, check, direct deposit, and payroll debit cards—and outlines the strict notice and consent requirements for paying wages by direct deposit or payroll debit cards. The regulation addressing payroll debit cards are especially important, as this payment method has until now been less regulated than more traditional payment methods, like cash and check. The regulation will be implemented March 7, 2017, and incorporates most of the provisions that the NYDOL initially proposed on June 5, 2016.

The regulation requires an employee to provide “consent” to receive wages by direct deposit or payroll debit card, prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees who decline to accept wage payments by direct deposit or payroll debit card, mandates that employers provide notice to employees naming other available ways of paying wages, and applies many conditions that limit an employer’s ability to pay employees’ wages by payroll debit card.