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By Brian Carnie

The wait is over (for better or worse) – the DOL has released its final rule concerning  changes to the salary requirements to be exempt from the overtime pay requirement under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Under the final rule, the DOL has increased the minimum salary threshold that must be paid in order for most executive, administrative or professional employees to qualify for exemption from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $913 per week ($47,476 annually).  This new salary threshold does not apply to teachers, doctors, lawyers, or certain other exempt professionals who are not currently subject to the salary basis or salary level tests.  The final rule permits employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level.  While the new salary threshold is $2,940 less per year than what was originally proposed in 2015, it still presents headaches for many employers who have exempt employees who are paid well below this new salary level.

The final rule also raises the amount paid to an employee to qualify for the highly-compensated employee exemption (from $100,000/yr to approximately $134,004/yr) and establishes mechanisms for automatic increases to the salary requirements every three years.  The final rule makes no changes to the duties requirements that these administrative, executive or professional employees must also meet in order to qualify for exemption, but those may come in the next wave from the DOL.

Covered employers have until December 1, 2016 to make necessary changes (which is when the final rule is effective), after which employers could be held liable for overtime pay violations in subsequent workweeks for up to 3 years after each violation (plus liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees).

What Employers Can Do

For any affected exempt employees who are not paid enough to qualify under the increased salary basis test, consider the following:

  1. Compute what their current weekly salary would be under a 40 hour workweek and then figure how much overtime s/he would have to work before hitting the new minimum salary level (this will determine whether and how much of a change will be needed).

Here is the formula:  [Weekly salary ÷ 40 hrs] x 1.5 = OT rate

[$913 – (current weekly salary)] ÷ OT rate = # of OT hours required before hitting new min. salary level of exemption

  1. Consider adopting the fluctuating workweek method which permits employers to pay non-exempt employees a fixed weekly salary regardless of the number of hours worked. If you implement this properly, employers only have to pay one-half (.5) the regular rate of pay for all hours that exceed 40 per workweek instead of the typical one and one-half (1.5) overtime rate.
  2. For employees whose hours are fairly consistent, consider translating their current weekly salary to an hourly rate where they would continue to receive approximately the same amount of compensation even if they are re-classified as non-exempt and are paid overtime.

 [current weekly salary] ÷ [40 + (1.5 x (expected OT hrs))] = New hourly rate

or if using fluctuating workweek method,

[new hourly rate] x [40 + (expected OT hrs)] = New weekly salary

Then make sure to pay them additional 1/2 rate [(new weekly salary ÷ total hrs) x .5] for all hours worked over 40 in workweek

For employees whose hours vary, consider setting a maximum hour cap beyond which they cannot work without prior management approval.  However, should one or more non-exempt employees exceed this cap in a particular workweek, you must pay them the required overtime for that workweek but you may discipline them for violating the cap.

  1. Take steps to manage off the clock work by employees who were previously treated as exempt, especially if they use electronic devices such as smartphones or laptops outside of the workplace (or outside of normal work hours) for work purposes.
  2. Implement a “safe harbor” policy that details your timekeeping requirements and prohibits off the clock work. Such a policy may provide a good faith defense to liquidated damages stemming from FLSA OT violations, and may also preserve an employee’s exempt status in the event impermissible deductions are made.

Over the next 30 days, Kean Miller will be conducting client briefings on this topic for our clients and friends of our firm.  Stay tuned for dates, times and locations.