The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has released its spring 2015 regulatory agenda, which provides a window into what we can expect from the agency over the coming months. The agenda provides updates on 70 rulemaking measures and suggests that — with President Obama’s term approaching its end — the DOL is putting its rule-making into high gear.
Here are some highlights from the agenda:
The DOL indicates that we should see the proposed rule redefining the white-collar exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in June. As we reported last year, President Obama has directed Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to “modernize and streamline” the regulations defining this exemption for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and computer employees. We expect that the proposed rule will narrow the white-collar exemptions, resulting in fewer employees qualifying as exempt from overtime requirements.
Use of Technology during Non-Working Hours
Also on the agenda is information seeking – in the pre-rule stage – on “the use of technology, including portable electronic devices, by employees away from the workplace and outside of scheduled work hours.” It appears that the DOL is seeking this information with an eye toward proposing a rule clarifying how this type of 21st Century off-the-clock work is compensated (likely to the benefit of employees). The request for information is expected in August.
Reporting under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act
Lastly, the DOL agenda also indicates that we should expect a controversial final rule on the narrowing of the “advice” exception under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) in December. The LMRDA requires employers and labor relations consultants (or other similar individuals) to report any agreement or arrangement they have to engage in activities to persuade employees concerning the right to organize or bargain collectively. The LMRDA contains an exception for “advice,” stating that no employer or consultant has to file a report concerning services of a consultant if that consultant just gives “advice” to the employer. The proposed rule would limit the definition of “advice” to “oral or written recommendations,” so that any other activity would need to be reported. This proposed rule has been on the books for a number of years and continues to face serious opposition from many groups — including the American Bar Association — because it raises critical concerns about attorney-client privilege. We expect lengthy legal challenges to this rule.
It should be a busy second-half of the year for the DOL. We will keep you updated on any new developments.
Statistics released earlier this month by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts show an 8.8% increase in the number of Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) cases in the year ending in September 2014 as compared to the prior year.
This dramatic increase is the result of a variety of factors. First, the law itself has many ambiguities in its terms and definitions. Although the Department of Labor has attempted to reduce ambiguity in its guidance and regulations, many terms and issues are still unresolved and leave open the potential for legal claims. Also, the law is old. Applying a law passed in 1938 to the modern workplace, with drastic advances in technology, can be very difficult and often times leads to confusion. Finally, both employees and the attorneys to whom they may go to challenge a termination are becoming more savvy regarding wage and hour issues. As a result, we are seeing many cases where a terminated employee who comes into an attorney’s office looking to sue for “wrongful termination” walks out with a wage and hour claim – potentially even a class claim.
Employers should continue to review wage and hour practices to make sure that employees are properly classified as exempt or non-exempt and are being paid in accordance with local requirements. In addition, employers with specific concerns about class or collective actions should consider an arbitration program, which would require all claims to be dealt with in arbitration on an individual – not class or collective – basis.
It was a big week for the Fair Labor Standards Act.
On March 7th, the Supreme Court let stand a decision that the owner, president and CEO of a supermarket chain in New York is personally liable for his company’s failure to make required payments on a FLSA settlement agreement. The owner argued that to be held personally liable he had to be responsible for the violations (rather than just have general control over corporate operations). However, the Supreme Court refused to hear his arguments against the court of appeals’ decision, which can be interpreted broadly to suggest that an individual may be held personally liable for FLSA violations by virtue of general control of over corporate affairs.
On March 10th, the Supreme Court declined to review an appeals court decision finding that undocumented workers can sue — and recover wages owed — under the FLSA.
Then, on March 13th, President Obama directed the Secretary of Labor to update the FLSA’s overtime exemptions to provide more employees with overtime pay. Some have speculated that the change will be to significantly raise the minimum weekly salary for an employee to be considered exempt under most exemptions (currently $455/week), but changes could also include rewrites of the job duties tests for the frequently used “white collar exemptions” or other limitations on current exemptions. It remains to be seen what changes will be proposed by the administration and whether they can be implemented before the end of the President’s term. We will keep you posted as we learn more.