Fall 2018 Unified Agenda Forecasts Several Significant Employment-Related Regulatory & Deregulatory Actions

By: Mark M. Trapp and Aaron R. Gelb

On October 17, 2018, the Trump Administration released its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (“Agenda”). Reports such as these, usually issued twice a year, set forth each federal agency’s forecast of its anticipated actions and rulemaking priorities for the next six-month period. It also provides estimated timelines for completion. This regulatory to-do list provides insight into the administration’s upcoming priorities. The current Agenda emphasizes the Trump Administration’s efforts to deregulate industry, but also includes several regulatory items of importance to employers.

Here is a summary, broken down by department, of the most significant employment-related items addressed in the Agenda.

Department of LaborFall 2018 Agenda_DOL_3

Wage and Hour Division

Joint Employment. The Obama administration took a much broader view of “joint employment” – situations in which a worker may be considered an employee of two or more separate employers. Following the lead of the NLRB, which last month issued its own proposed rule re-tightening the standard for joint employment, the DOL announced its intention to “clarify the contours of the joint employment relationship to assist the regulated community in complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act.” A notice of proposed rulemaking is scheduled to issue as early as December 2018 and will hopefully modernize the method for determining joint employment in today’s workplace.

White Collar Overtime Exemption. The DOL has listed as a priority its long-awaited rule to update the salary level for the exemption of executive, administrative and professional employees under the FLSA (the so-called white-collar exemption). It is expected to raise the threshold exemption for such employees from the historical level under the FLSA ($23,660 annually), but not as high as the former rule adopted by the Obama administration, which would have more than doubled the minimum salary level but was enjoined by a court. The timeframe is somewhat unclear and has been pushed back twice already. The Agenda states it is now expected in March 2019.

Regular Rate. Under the FLSA, employers must pay covered employees time and a half their regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours in a workweek. The DOL has stated its intent to amend its regulations “to clarify, update and define the regular rate requirements under the FLSA.” The new proposal is expected in December 2018.

Tip Regulations. In March of 2018, the omnibus budget bill amended the FLSA and addressed rules affecting tipped employees and so-called “tip pooling.” The DOL is expected to issue a proposed rule this month to clarify and address the impact of the 2018 FLSA amendments.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses. OSHA proposed to amend its recordkeeping regulation to remove the requirement to electronically submit to OSHA information from OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) and OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) for establishments with 250 or more employees which are required to routinely keep injury and illness records. Under the proposed rule, these establishments would be required to electronically submit only information from the OSHA Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses). OSHA also proposed to add the Employer Identification Number (EIN) to the data collection to increase the likelihood that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would be able to match OSHA-collected data to BLS Survey of Occupational Injury and Illness (SOII) data and potentially reduce the burden on employers who are required to report injury and illness data both to OSHA (for the electronic recordkeeping requirement) and to BLS. OSHA is reviewing comments and is expected to publish a final rule in June 2019. Many entities submitted comments regarding the anti-retaliation provisions of the rule, but it is not known whether OSHA will make further changes to that aspect of the rule. Meanwhile, OSHA issued a memorandum on October 11, 2018 with the stated intent of clarifying that the rule does not prohibit workplace safety incentive programs or post-incident drug testing. Action taken under a safety incentive program or post-incident drug testing policy would only violate 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) if the employer took the action to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health. This rulemaking has been moved from the Proposed Rule Stage to the Final Rule Stage. Continue reading

[Webinar] A Business Primer on Disability Access Laws: Preventive Tools and Defense Strategies

On Thursday, October 25, 2018, at 1 pm EDT, join Kara M. Maciel and Andrew J. Sommer of Conn Maciel Carey’s national Labor & Employment Practice Group for a complimentary webinar:  “A Business Primer on Disability Access Laws:  Preventive Tools and Defense Strategies

Businesses continue to be plagued by litigation under the Americans with Disabilities, Title III (ADA) over alleged access barriers.  Lawsuits against hotels and retailers, among other public accommodations, appear to be on the rise with a disproportionate share in California.

Disability Webinar

This webinar will provide an overview of ADA, Title III standards as they apply to construction existing before the enactment of the ADA in 1992 as well as to subsequent new construction and alterations.  The webinar will also address Continue reading

US DOL Issues FMLA Opinion Letters Clarifying No Fault Attendance Policy Rules and…Organ Donation

By: Aaron R. Gelb

Until last week, the US Department of Labor (the “DOL”) had not issued an Opinion Letter regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”) since George W. Bush was packing up and preparing to leave the White House in January 2009.  DOL Iterp Letter ImageOn August 28, 2018, Bryan Jarrett, the Acting Administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (the “WHD”) issued two Opinion Letters—one addressing an important consideration facing employers with no-fault attendance policies and another that addresses whether organ donation surgery can qualify as a “serious health condition” under the FMLA for the purposes of taking leave.  While the answer to the latter question will likely not surprise anyone who regularly deals with employee requests for leave under the FMLA, the WHD’s opinion regarding whether and how points should be removed from an individual’s record while they are on protected leave does indeed provide much needed clarity on that topic.

But first, a bit of background regarding why the mere issuance of these letters is significant.  An opinion letter is an official, written opinion issued by the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL explaining how a certain law applies in specific circumstances described by an employer, employee, or other entity requesting the opinion. The DOL noted in a June 2017 press release that the Wage and Hour Division had been issuing opinion letters for more than 70 years until the Obama administration replaced them with general guidance memoranda in 2010.  “Reinstating opinion letters will benefit employees and employers as they provide a means by which both can develop a clearer understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes,” said Secretary Acosta in the press release. “The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to helping employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities,” said Secretary Acosta, explaining that such letters would enable employers to “concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”

Turning to the two opinion letters issued on August 28, 2018, we will first address the leave for organ donation, then consider no-fault attendance policy rules. Continue reading

Free In-Person OSHA and Labor & Employment Client Briefing in Chicago – September 25, 2018

Join Conn Maciel Carey for an In-Person OSHA and Labor & Employment Briefing in Chicago on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, and stay for a reception to celebrate the launch of our Chicago Office.

This complimentary program will feature panel discussions with representatives from EEOC, NLRB, and OSHA addressing key policy trends and regulatory developments.  They will be joined by senior corporate counsel from multinational corporations and Conn Maciel Carey’s own Labor & Employment and OSHA specialist attorneys.  There will also be moderated breakout roundtable sessions covering issues of concern to various industry segments.


Agenda

1:00 PM – Registration and Networking

1:30 PM – OSHA Panel

  • Angie Loftus (OSHA Area Director – Chicago North Area Office)
  • Nick Walters (Former OSHA Regional Administrator – Region 5) Continue reading

DOL’s Persuader Rule Rescinded

As we reported back in 2017, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) had promulgated a proposed rulemaking to rescind its controversial 2016 “Persuader” Rule.  Less than a year later, the Persuader Rule has been officially rescinded as of Tuesday, July 17, 2018.  In a news release announcing the Persuader Rule Rescindedrescission, Nathan Mehrens of the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary stated, “By rescinding this Rule, the Department stands up for the right of Americans to ask a question of their attorney without mandated disclosure to the government.”  This statement addresses one of the most significant sources of conflict over this Rule, both during and after its promulgation, and clearly identifies an important outcome of the DOL’s decision to withdraw it entirely.

Continue reading

DOL Announces FLSA Self-Audit Program

1On March 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced that it would soon be implementing its Payroll Audit Independent Determination (“PAID”) program, which will permit employers to self-report potential violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) without fear of exposure to liquidated damages.  Although the DOL’s news release frames this program as a boon for employees as they can receive back wages without the substantial cost of litigation, the program could also be beneficial to certain employers.  Indeed, the program is designed to encourage proactive resolution of potential minimum wage and overtime violations by limiting potential damages to solely the back wages owed.  The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) intends to employ the PAID program nationwide for 6 months, at which time it will evaluate the effectiveness of the program and its future options.

Under the FLSA, an employee may be entitled to penalties and liquidated damages if she can successfully show that her employer failed to pay the required minimum wage or make overtime payments.  The FLSA establishes that liquidated damages are equal to the amount of back wages owed.  In other words, an employer could be required to pay double the employee’s back pay.  Courts have generally held there is a presumption in favor of liquidated damages unless the employer can show (1) it acted in good faith; and (2) it had reasonable grounds to believe it was complying with the law.  This puts a burden on the employer to provide evidence that substantiates both these elements.  If it cannot present such evidence, the employer faces a substantial financial burden in damages owed, particularly in the case of a collective action – a very common occurrence under the FLSA. Continue reading

DOL Provides Guidance on FLSA Issues in 17 Revived Opinion Letters

DOL LettersOn January 5, 2018, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division issued 17 Opinion Letters addressing issues under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that had been originally drafted in 2009.  Specifically, in the last days of the Bush Administration, the DOL prepared these Opinion Letters, which were pulled back less than two months later after President Obama took office.  Interestingly, these are the first Opinion Letters that have been issued since 2009.  These letters largely examine application of the White-Collar Exemptions under Section 13(a) of the Act, but they also explore treatment of on-call time, bonuses, commission compensation, and joint-employment vs. volunteer status.  Although none of these letters represent ground-breaking interpretations of the law and the DOL characterizes the guidance as very fact specific, issuing them provides some additional guidance on which employers may be able to rely, who are faced with similar factual situations, and indicates how the Trump Administration will interpret these topics going forward.

In relation to on-call time, two letters – FLSA2018-1 and FLSA2018-7 – address when on-call time is compensable, as well as deductions from exempt employee pay for failure to be available for an on-call shift.  FLSA2018-1 starts from the premise that on-call time need not be compensated if the employee can use the time for their own purposes “unless the restrictions [on their time] are so burdensome and the call-backs so frequent as to prevent free use of their time.”  In this context, the letter explains that requiring ambulance personnel in a small town to respond in five minutes to call-backs made on a relatively infrequent basis (about three per week) did not present the type of restrictions that would make the on-call time compensable.

In FLSA2018-7, the DOL explains when an employer can deduct time from an exempt employee’s pay, who is not available to be called in for her on-call hours.  According to the DOL’s interpretation, if the employee’s unavailability for on-call time would constitute a full day of work, the hours actually missed can be deducted from the employee’s pay.  Accordingly, this guidance indicates that the DOL under President Trump may take a narrower view of compensable on-call time and a broader view of when its permissible to deduct time from exempt employee pay, although the DOL did emphasize that the time away must be equivalent to a full day of work to be deducted.

Another common FLSA issue addressed by these reissued letters is the treatment of employee bonuses.  Specifically, in FLSA2018-9, the DOL revised a prior Wage and Hour interpretation and explained that providing a non-discretionary bonus paid at the end of the year, calculated as a percentage of straight-time and overtime earnings, is compliant.  As to the change to a prior interpretation, FLSA2018-9 explains that, to the extent Opinion Letter WH-241 requires all remuneration to be used in calculating a percentage bonus, even payments outside what’s required to be included in the regular rate of pay, this portion of the prior Opinion Letter is withdrawn.  Moreover, the DOL makes clear its understanding that a non-discretionary bonus calculated from a percentage of straight-time pay and overtime compensation does not require additional overtime compensation be provided because payment of the bonus would increase the straight-time and overtime compensation by the same percentage.

Under the FLSA employers are required to pay overtime based on the regular rate of pay, which includes non-discretionary bonuses, and this letter indicates that this requirement is met by calculating the bonus using a percentage of straight-time and overtime compensation.  Indeed, FLSA2018-11 reiterates this concept in verifying that a bonus paid to non-exempt employees for all days worked, and not conditioned on any other factor, must be included in determining each employees’ regular rate of pay.

Furthermore, several of the letters address which types of employees fall into one of the exemptions identified in Section 13(a)(1) based on the specific types of duties performed.  These letters generally start from the assumption that the employee is earning at least $455.00 per week – the former salary threshold level for exempt employees prior to the DOL’s 2016 rulemaking to increase that salary threshold level.  For example, in one letter, FLSA2018-4, the DOL addresses whether a project superintendent at a construction site can be classified as an exempt employee under the FLSA.  Assessments of this type of position have been split on whether an employee can be treated as exempt because the evaluation is so dependent on the specific type of duties assigned.  FLSA2018-4 opines that a project superintendent could fall within the administrative exemption where, as is the position is described in the letter, he or she primarily is responsible for overseeing the construction project from start to finish, exercises independent judgment in securing and hiring subcontractors and overseeing their work (among other, similar duties), and made significant decisions about how the project would be performed.  In addition to addressing the specific situation described in the inquiry, the Letter also demonstrates how the DOL would analyze a question of exempt status under Section 13(a)(1), as this letter considers three potential exemptions under Section 13(a)(1) – professional, executive, and administrative.

Although these guidance documents do not establish new law or even necessarily apply to many employers, companies should be aware of them because they may be very helpful in trying to determine how to navigate the FLSA under similar facts as those addressed in each letter.  Additionally, employers may be able to rely on these letters to show the DOL’s interpretation of a specific provision in defending itself against claims alleged by employees or enforcement actions initiated by the DOL.  We may see more guidance of this type once a new head of the Wage and Hour Division is confirmed.  On January 18, 2017, Cheryl Stanton was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, but her nomination must still face a full Senate vote before she can be confirmed.