Reprinted with permission from the April 18th, 2018 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2018 ALM Media Properties. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.


The Supreme Court’s decision in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro interprets a very specific exemption to the overtime rules imposed by the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201, et seq. (“FLSA”), but the Court’s language and reasoning have game-changing ramifications.  The Court’s rejection of the principle that courts should narrowly construe exemptions to the FLSA turns decades of FLSA caselaw on its head.

The facts of Encino Motorcars are deceptively narrow.  Employees classified as service advisors for a car dealership challenged the car dealership’s classification of the service advisors as exempt from the FLSA.  The FLSA requires that employers must pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours in a week.  29 U.S.C. § 207(a).  The dealership claimed the exemption under a statutory exemption that applies to car dealerships.  29 U.S.C. § 213.  Specifically, the section in question exempts from overtime pay requirements:

Any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles, trucks, or farm implements, if he is employed by a nonmanufacturing establishment primarily engaged in the business of selling such vehicles or implements to ultimate purchasers.

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Reprinted with permission from the January 18, 2018 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2018 ALM Media Properties. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

In a recent decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court complicated the already tricky business of paying nonexempt employees on an hourly basis for Pennsylvania employers.  In Chevalier v. Hiller, the Court found that a “fluctuating workweek” overtime calculation method, approved by federal regulation, violates Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act, 43 P.S. §333.101  et seq. (“PMWA”).  The Superior Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employees, in a comprehensive opinion that requires Pennsylvania employers to review carefully their overtime calculation methods.

The employees in this case were managers at various levels for GNC.  GNC calculated their overtime pay using the “fluctuating work week method.”  Under this method, in an example provided by the Superior Court, overtime was calculated as follows:  employees were paid $1000 a week regardless of the number of hours worked in a week.  In one week, the example goes, the employee worked 50 hours.  GNC thus calculated the employees “regular rate” at $20 an hour.  GNC then paid the employee an additional $10 an hour for the ten hours over 40, resulting in $1100 in wages for the 50 hour week.

The employees argued that this method was improper under the PMWA, and the trial court agreed.  The trial court opined that the rate instead should have been calculated using the “forty hour” method.   Under this method, the regular rate is determined by dividing the weekly salary of $1000 by forty hours, to produce a rate of $25 an hour.  Then, the additional ten hours over forty worked should have been paid at time and a half for an additional $375, resulting in $1375 in wages for the 50 hour week. Notably, had the Superior Court agreed with the trial court, the cost of paying nonexempt employees on a salary basis would have increased exponentially. 

Instead, the Superior Court disagreed with the trial court and found that the regular rate was properly calculated using the “fluctuating workweek method,” that is, that the employer’s calculation of the regular rate by dividing the employee’s salary in a given week by the number of hours the employee actually worked did not violate the PMWA. 

However, the Superior Court found that GNC’s method of paying for the overtime hours violated the PMWA.  The Superior Court found that PMWA required the payment of an overtime premium of 1 and ½ times the employee’s regular rate for all hours in excess of forty in a work week.  Accordingly, using  the fifty hour example set forth above, that employee should have received $200 in overtime. 

The Superior Court began its analysis by noting the purpose of the PMWA, which mirrors the language of the FLSA, “to protect employees who do not have real bargaining power.”  The Court noted that no Pennsylvania appellate court had evaluated the propriety of the fluctuating workweek method under the PMWA, but that some federal courts had addressed the PMWA’s overtime requirements.  In those cases, the federal courts agreed with the conclusion of the Superior Court regarding the premium due, but did not address the appropriate method for calculating the regular rate. 

The Superior  Court’s holding imposes a different requirement than the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.  Under the FLSA, and cases interpreting it, an employer is free to use the fluctuating work week method, and to pay a premium of one-half the hourly rate for hours over forty in a workweek, on the theory that the regular rate for those hours is captured in the salary.  While the Superior Court found that the PMWA permitted a calculation of the regular rate, consistent with the FLSA, using the fluctuating workweek method, the Superior Court found that Pennsylvania law would not permit a premium of only ½ that regular rate.

Instead, the Superior Court found that the applicable regulations required the payment of one and one-half times the regular rate for hours over forty in a workweek. The applicable regulations require that “each employee shall be paid for overtime not less than 1-1/2 times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours in excess of 40 hours in a work week.”  24 Pa. Code § 231.41.    The regulations do permit the payment of half the regular rate only for employees who are paid a flat sum for a day’s work.  34 Pa. Code § 231.43(b).  Finally, another regulation permits employer and employee to come to an agreement as to the “basis rate” for payment of work in excess of the maximum workweek, but only if the employer uses a multiplier of one and one-half.  In other words, the Superior Court found, in all instances where the regulations address the appropriate multiplier, the regulations required the payment of one and one-half times the regular rate.  The Court pointed out that the Department of Labor did not adopt the federal regulation that expressly permits the payment of half the regular rate as the overtime premium, although it could have done so.  The Court found the decision not to adopt that federal regulation was a deliberate reflection of the purpose to protect employees.   

The Superior Court’s decision creates a dilemma for Pennsylvania employers using the fluctuating workweek method.  Pennsylvania employers currently paying an overtime premium of half the hourly rate for hours over forty in a workweek to nonexempt, salaried employees, are complying with federal, but not Pennsylvania law.  Employers will need to evaluate their overtime calculation policies and review whether paying nonexempt employees on a salary basis continues to make economic sense. 

Patricia Collins is a Partner with Antheil Maslow & MacMinn, LLP, based in Doylestown, PA. Her practice focuses primarily on employment, commercial litigation, and health care law. To learn more about the firm or Patricia Collins, visit www.ammlaw.com

 

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Friday, 19 May 2017 16:59

Speaking of Overtime Rules ….

Let’s check in with the January 2017 case filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas challenging the Obama Administration’s proposed changes to overtime regulations.  Those regulations would have required employers to reclassify many employees considered exempt from overtime rules to non-exempt status, requiring the employer to now pay overtime to those employees. The rule was widely considered a boon to employees, but a burden for small businesses and nonprofits. 

Those rules would have required that in addition to meeting certain requirements with regard to an employee’s duties, the employee must also earn a minimum salary of $47,476 to qualify for “exempt” status.  The current rule requires that the employee earn a minimum salary of $23,660.  The dramatic increase in the salary requirement caused employers to reevaluate classifications and to generate new policies regarding overtime and work hours in advance of a December 1, 2016 deadline.

As previously discussed on this blog, on November 22, 2016, the Eastern District of Texas entered an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the new rules.  Many clients have asked me, dreading the answer, whether that injunction remains in place.  On December 1, 2016, the United States Department of Labor appealed the injunction order, and sought a stay of the Court’s order prohibiting enforcement.  The Court denied the stay, and the matter is now on appeal.  During the appeal, the Department of Labor cannot enforce the new rules.  The appeals court granted a request submitted by the Department of Justice to extend time to file appellate briefs while “incoming leadership personnel” considered the issues.  That brief is now due on June 30. 

The Trump Administration has three choices: defend the rule, withdraw the rule, or rewrite the rule.  Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has telegraphed that a review of the rule was necessary, but that the salary increase was too dramatic.  However, the Department of Labor’s repeated requests for extensions to file a brief indicate that it is not necessarily an easy call.  For example, because the Eastern District’s order granting the injunction called into question the rulemaking authority of the Department of Labor, there may be good reason for the administration to challenge the court’s injunction order, even though it does not necessarily agree with the rule. 

The overtime rules will remain in limbo until at least June 30, 2017.  We will continue to monitor the situation.  In the meantime, employers are not required to change their overtime policies or the classifications of their employees. 
 

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By Patricia Collins, Esquire
 

On May 2, 2017, the House passed the Working Families Flexibility Act.  The purpose of the Act is to give employees flexibility in how they choose to be paid for overtime: in wages or in compensatory time off.  The Act crystallizes a tension I see often in my representation of employers. 

 Presently, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires employers to pay nonexempt employees overtime compensation for work hours in excess of 40 in a workweek.  Employers cannot compensate employees for those overtime hours in compensatory time off (“comp time”).  Such a policy violates the FLSA, exposing the employer to liability for the unpaid overtime hours as well as penalties and attorney’s fees.

 The FLSA prohibition against payment in comp time is intended to protect employees from abusive overtime demands by employers.  The statutory obligation to pay additional wages for hours over forty in a workweek, so the argument goes, forces the employer to base the decision to require overtime hours on business and financial considerations.  The FLSA’s ban on comp time legislates a policy determination that offering comp time will not protect employees from abusive demands by employers.

 Republicans this week argued otherwise.  They argue that permitting employees to take comp time rather than payment for overtime work gives employees flexibility.    Democrats who opposed the bill countered that the Act’s provision allowing employers the final say does not adequately protect employees. 

 Practically, the Act sits at the tipping point of many competing considerations:  employers want to establish policies that comply with the law, protect the business, and benefit employees.  Employees want flexibility, but they also need to be paid for their work.  The reality is that banked comp time can be a liability for employers because there are jobs for which attendance is extremely important, and unscheduled or unpredictable time is off is sometimes expensive or interferes with the progress of work.  Further, employees might not be free to use that comp time in the manner they would like if it interferes with the employer’s business.  Most employers offer paid time off in a set amount, in order to create predictability as to an employee’s attendance.  While this proposed rule might create flexibility and reduce overtime costs, I do wonder whether it is really a savings in the long run. 

 It will be interesting to see how the Senate balances these concerns, and whether employers will create policies that allow comp time.  The bill now goes to the Senate – no word yet on whether they will vote on it. Stay tuned!

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Employers have been working to comply with new overtime rules issued by the United States Department of Labor that raise the salary level in order to meet certain exemptions from overtime rules before a December 1, 2016 deadline.  Those rules require that in addition to meeting certain requirements with regard to an employee’s duties, the employee must also earn a minimum salary of $47,476.  The old rule required that the employee earn a minimum salary of $23,660.  The dramatic increase in the salary requirement caused employers to reevaluate classifications and to generate new policies regarding overtime and work hours.

 On November 22, 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily barring the Department of Labor from enforcing the new overtime rule.  The order will remain in place pending a full hearing on the issue.  While the order is temporary, as a prerequisite to entering the order, the Court was required to find that there was a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the argument that the DOL exceeded its authority in promulgating the rule.  So, there is some indication that the Court may bar enforcement of the new rules permanently. 

 For now, employers are temporarily relieved of the obligation to comply with the new rules by the December 1, 2016 deadline.  Because the outcome is not guaranteed, employers should have their new policies ready to go, but do not need to implement them on December 1.  It is simply too early to say whether employers should “shelve” those new policies.  We will have to wait for the Court’s final ruling.   Stay tuned to this space as the case unfolds. 

Patricia Collins is an employment and litigation Partner at Antheil Maslow & MacMinn, LLP and chair of the labor and employment practice group.

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