The $15 per hour minimum wage is not a new idea, although a minimum wage increase under the Fair Labor Standards Act has garnered new attention in recent months. Raising the minimum wage was one of President Biden’s campaign promises and both the House and the Senate have re-introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage. Some states, like California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York are already on track to have a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2025. But what does all this mean for employers? According to a recent Congressional Budget Office study increasing the federal minimum wage would raise the wages of at least 17 million Americans. Therefore, employers should begin thinking about how the progressive increase of the minimum wage will impact their resources.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) dictates the federal minimum wage, rules surrounding overtime pay and hours worked, and recordkeeping requirements. Two types of employers are covered under the FLSA: enterprises and individuals. Enterprises have at least two employees and are (1) those that have an annual dollar volume of sales or business done of at least $500,000 or (2) hospitals and businesses providing medical or nursing care for residents, schools, and preschools, and government agencies. Individuals are employers whose employees are engaged in work that regularly involves interstate commerce. Executive, administrative, and professional employees (including teachers and academic administrative personnel in elementary and secondary schools) are FLSA minimum wage and overtime exempt provided they are paid at not less than $684 per week on a salary basis. These salary requirements do not apply to outside sales employees, teachers, and employees practicing law or medicine. This exception is commonly referred to as the white collar exception. Other minimum wage and overtime exemptions include creative professionals, computer employees, and highly compensated individuals.
If the $15 per hour minimum wage legislation passes, employers may consider making hourly employees who would otherwise be FLSA exempt salaried. There are several benefits to be gained if those employees were correctly classified as minimum wage and overtime exempt. First, predictable wages. Hourly employees who work more than 40 hours per week are entitled to 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for each additional hour worked. If the $15 per hour minimum wage passes, that would be an overtime rate of pay of $22.50 per hour. Salaried white collar employees are not subject to the same overtime pay. Second, the elimination of recordkeeping. Employers must keep a record of all hours worked by their hourly employees. For about the past year, many white collar employees have tele-worked due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Tele-work has made it challenging for employers to keep track of employee hours worked. Whereas before an employee may have used a daily timeclock located inside the office, now employers have had to come up with creative solutions to comply with the FLSA recordkeeping requirement. With many companies predicting that even after the pandemic tele-work may still be available at least one day a week for all white collar employees, correctly classifying white collar employees as exempt by making them salaried eliminates the need to keep track of employees’ working hours.
Employers who do consider changing their white collar employees from hourly to salaried should exercise caution. The U.S. Wage and Hour Division has outlined specific tests for every exempt employee category and employers do not want to run the risk of misclassifying employees as it could result in a lawsuit. Furthermore, employers should make sure that the decision is made equitably so as not to run afoul of other labor and employment laws like Title VII and The Americans with Disabilities Act. Ultimately, the decision of whether to make an otherwise FLSA exempt hourly employee salaried should take into account the employer’s resources and be made with the assistance of legal counsel.