February 18, 2016

New Overtime Rules Could Result in Loss of Exempt Status for Salaried Employees

Posted in Administrative Exemption, Executive Exemption, Exempt/Non-Exempt Employees, Fair Labor Standards Act, Hours Worked, Professional Exemption tagged , , , , , , , , , at 4:58 pm by Tom Jacobson

new flsa overtime rules

Many salaried employees would lose their exempt status under the DOL’s new overtime rules.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed changes to the nation’s overtime pay rules would have a profound impact on workplaces throughout the country. The impact would be the potential loss of exempt status for many salaried employees. To prepare, employers should familiarize themselves with the proposed new rule and review their pay practices to ensure compliance in case the new overtime rules take effect.

The new rules would increase the minimum salary an employee must be paid before s/he may be classified as exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This means many employees who are now properly classified as exempt will no longer be exempt. Consequently, they would then be eligible for overtime pay if they work more than forty hours in a workweek.

The change would come about because the FLSA generally requires most U.S. employers to pay overtime (that is, one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay) when employees work more than forty hours in a work week. However, certain categories of employees are exempt from that requirement. To qualify for some exemptions, those employees must not only perform certain duties as specified in the FLSA, but they must also be paid a minimum salary.

Currently, that minimum salary is $455 per week ($23,660 per year). Under the new rule, that threshold would more than double to $970 per week ($50,440 per year).

The impact can be illustrated with a hypothetical workplace where an employee is currently paid a salary somewhere between $24,000 and $50,000 per year and works an average of 45 to 50 hours per week. Assuming that employee meets one of the FLSA’s “duties” tests, the employee would likely be considered exempt and not entitled to overtime pay. Therefore, the employee would be paid the same regardless of how many hours s/he works in a week.

If the new rules take effect, the same employee would no longer be exempt, and s/he would be entitled to overtime pay for the extra five to ten hours of work each week. Therefore, the employer would need to increase the employee’s salary to meet the new threshold and maintain the exemption, or the employer would need to convert the employee to an hourly-rate employee and pay time and a half for any overtime.

The new rules have not yet gone into effect, and it is not entirely clear if and when they will. They were initially slated to take effect this spring. However, the Society for Human Resource Management reports that this may not happen until later this year. SHRM also reports there is a remote chance that Congress could overturn the rules using the Congressional Review Act and/or that the rules will be challenged in court.

In the meantime, employers should pay attention to the potential rule change and be prepared to change their pay practices to remain in compliance. Suggestions include:

  • Determine which currently exempt employees would no longer be exempt if the salary threshold increases;
  • Assuming an employee’s exemption would be lost under the new rules, decide whether to increase the employee’s salary to meet the new threshold or convert the employee’s salary to an hourly rate basis;
  • Budget for any increased overtime costs resulting from employees who would become eligible for it under the new rules;
  • Review scheduling issues to determine whether hours can be reduced to limit the overtime liability for an employee who must be treated as non-exempt;
  • Address morale issues that could result from any perceived “demotion” of employees from exempt/salaried to non-exempt/hourly status.

In addition, although the proposed new rules do not alter the “duties” test for FLSA exemptions, employers would be wise to take this opportunity to review their exempt employees’ duties to determine whether they actually meet those duties tests. This is because even if an employee meets the salary test (whether under the current or proposed new standards), that does not automatically mean the employee is exempt from the law’s overtime pay requirements.

For more information about FLSA exemption issues, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2016 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA
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February 3, 2016

“Boys are Boys” No Defense to Workplace Violence Claims

Posted in Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Negligent Retention, Negligent Supervision tagged , , , , , at 7:03 pm by Tom Jacobson

workplace violence

Reduce the risk of negligent hiring and negligent retention claims by adopting and following proper screening and workplace violence policies.

Employers can be held liable for injuries suffered by employees who are assaulted by their co-workers, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reiterated in a recent case. The decision highlights the importance of reducing the risk of workplace violence by conducting background checks of potential employees and enforcing anti-violence policies with existing employees.

The case, Hartfiel v. Allison (Jan. 25, 2016), started when an employee of T.J. Potter Trucking, Inc., Raymond Allison, hit co-worker Richard Hartfiel with a three-foot long steel bar while Hartfiel was sitting in his truck. Hartfiel suffered broken bones and other injuries and incurred over $75,000 in medical expenses.

In the resulting lawsuit, Hartfiel claimed that Potter Trucking was liable to him because it negligently hired and retained Allison. In support of his negligent hiring claim, Hartfiel pointed to the fact that Allison had a criminal history that included multiple assault convictions. He alleged that had Potter Trucking done a criminal background check and followed its own standard hiring procedures, they would have known to not hire Allison.

The court acknowledged that Minnesota employers may be held liable for negligent hiring if they fail to use reasonable care in hiring individuals who, through the employment, may pose a threat of injury to members of the public. This means that the scope of pre-employment investigations must be directly related to the severity of risk third parties are subjected to by an incompetent employee (the greater the risk, the more intensive the pre-employment screen should be). However, the court also noted that employers do not, as a matter of law, have a duty to conduct a criminal background check on prospective employees.

The court then rejected Hartfiel’s negligent hiring claim on the basis that Potter Trucking’s pre-employment inquiry was adequate:

Here, the unchallenged evidence shows that, although Allison provided Potter Trucking a release to perform a background check, Potter Trucking checks applicants’ driving records but does not conduct criminal background checks. Typically, Potter Trucking hires people on referral. Potter Trucking followed its standard procedures—it required Allison to submit an application, interviewed him, required him to submit to drug testing, obtained a release for a background check, and relied on a referral from Allison’s previous employer…. The record contains no evidence to suggest that Potter Trucking knew or should have known of Allison’s violent propensities when it hired him.

However, the court allowed Hartfiel’s negligent retention claim to proceed. Quoting a 1993 Minnesota Supreme Court case (Yunker v Honeywell), the court defined negligent retention:

Negligent retention … occurs when, during the course of employment, the employer becomes aware or should have become aware of problems with an employee that indicated his unfitness, and the employer fails to take further action such as investigating, discharge, or reassignment.

Applying that standard to Hartfiel’s claim, the court noted there was evidence that after Allison was hired, he assaulted a subcontractor, but the owner minimized it “because it ‘[was not] work related’ and because ‘boys are boys.'” Other evidence suggested that when Allison thought a foreman had been rude to him, he threatened, “it’s no secret where I live, come on over there and I’ll . . . kick your ass all over the yard.” Because of that evidence, the court allowed the negligent retention claim to proceed to trial:

The previously discussed evidence of Allison’s violent behavior against a Potter Trucking subcontractor in a tavern and threatening behavior toward a Potter Trucking foreman is the type of evidence on which a jury could find that Allison had violent propensities about which Potter Trucking knew or should have known.

The Hartfiel case reminds us that when hiring, employers should conduct pre-employment background checks that are sufficient to determine whether a candidate would pose a threat if hired. The greater the risk, the more intensive the background check should be. The depth of that investigation should be set well before the hiring process begins, and it should be consistently applied.

Moreover, the case reminds us that ignoring acts of workplace violence and threats of harm will subject an employer to liability for negligent retention. Thus, employers should adopt and enforce policies against workplace violence, and they should not brush off misconduct just because they think “boys are boys.”

For more information about workplace violence or guidance on how to develop or enforce policies and procedures to address these issues, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2016 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

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