A recent case highlights the need for Massachusetts’ employers to tread carefully around the so-called Wage Act, M.G.L. c. 149, § 148. Under this law, an employee who successfully makes out a claim for non-payment of wages “shall be” awarded automatic treble damages together with litigation costs and attorneys’ fees. Unlike the FLSA which permits the award of double damages as a liquidated remedy, the treble damages provision of the MA Wage Act is automatic, regardless of any good faith by the employer. While there remain arguments automatic treble damages is an unconstitutional punitive remedy, to date there is no definitive state court ruling on such a challenge. Read more
On July 15, 2015, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor issued guidance aimed at clarifying the distinction between “employees” and “independent contractors.” Published as an Administrator’s Interpretation, the DOL states that in its view, “most workers are employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act” (FLSA). The Administrator’s Interpretation also states that its analysis and the broad definition of employee it espouses also applies to certain other federal laws, specifically referencing the Family and Medical Leave Act. Importantly, the DOL announced a “misclassification initiative,” pursuant to which it has entered into numerous memorandum of understanding with states and the IRS to combat what it perceives as a significant, nation-wide problem of misclassification that deprives workers of important protections such as minimum wage, overtime compensation, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation. Read more
On June 30, 2015, the Department of Labor issued its anticipated update to the so-called “white collar exemptions” to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The proposed rule more than doubles the minimum weekly salary threshold for the application of the Executive, Administrative, Professional, and Computer Employee overtime exemptions, and ties the rate to annual data on national wages for full-time salaried employees. The rule would increase the minimum salary for exempt employees from the current $455 per week, or $23,660 annually, to an estimated $970 per week, or $50,440 annually when the final rule issues, likely in 2016. The proposed rule would also increase the minimum compensation required to qualify for the Highly Compensated Employee exemption, from $100,000 to $122,148 annually based on current data, also tethered to annual wage rates. The regulations do not change the optional hourly payment method for qualifying computer employees, which would remain at $27.63 per hour and would not be tied to changes in national wage data.
While the proposed rule does not currently include changes to the duties tests that also must be met for each exemption, in its 285-page statement accompanying the draft rule, the DOL advises that it is considering possible changes to the duties tests, and invites comments on these and other aspects of the exemptions. For example, the DOL seeks comment on whether the duties tests “are working as intended to screen out employees who are not bona fide” exempt employees, specifically, whether employees should be required to spend a minimum amount of time performing “primary duty” work, whether the single standard duties test for each category is appropriate, and whether the “concurrent duties” regulation should be modified to prevent exempt-classification of otherwise nonexempt employees. The Department also seeks comments on various other issues relating to the exemptions, including whether the national wage data methodology is appropriate, whether employers should be permitted to credit certain payments, such as non-discretionary bonuses and commissions, toward the salary requirement, and whether any additional occupational titles or categories should be included in the regulations regarding computer and information technology sectors.
In the short term, the rule is expected to affect nearly 5 million workers who currently make less than the proposed $50,440 annual salary threshold. Still more will be impacted by the increase in the Highly Compensated Employee salary level. The ultimate impact of the new rule remains unclear, with some economists predicting that workers’ hours, and ultimately wages, will go down to compensate for the changes. The DOL will accept the public’s comments on the proposed rules, which can be submitted in writing or online until September 4, 2015. All comments are made available online at http://www.regulations.gov.
Written by Alexandra D. Thayer (posted by Martha Zackin)
On November 12, the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act of 2013 (S. 1687) was introduced in the United States Senate. The bill, which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act, seeks to impose new rules and penalties relating to misclassification of employees as independent contractors. The changes would apply to all entities covered by the FLSA, including those that do not use independent contractors or other “non-employees.”
Although the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act would not prohibit the use of properly classified independent contractors, the bill would make it unlawful to “wrongly classify an employee . . . as a non-employee,” even if the misclassification is unintentional and made in a good faith attempt to comply with the law. If passed as currently written, the bill would:
- Impose treble damages for misclassification when the misclassification is combined with a violation of the minimum wage or overtime pay requirements of the FLSA;
- Require every entity covered by the FLSA issue a classification notice to all workers, informing them of their status as an “employee” or “non-employee,” and directing them to the Department of Labor for guidance. Failure to provide the required notice would result in penalties of up to $1,100 for each individual who did not receive notice. This penalty would increase to up to $5,000 per individual for a second offense or a willful violation;
- Authorize the Secretary of Labor to report misclassification information to the IRS, impose additional penalties upon employers that misclassify employees for unemployment compensation purposes, and conduct targeted audits within certain industries.
The issue of misclassification continues to be front and center for many lawmakers and regulators at both the state and federal levels. Bills similar to the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act of 2013 have been repeatedly introduced in Congress since 2010, and numerous states have recently passed or introduced legislation specifically addressing misclassification. The IRS and DOL are also actively pursuing employers in industries in which misclassification is viewed as prevalent.
Although in the current atmosphere of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill the proposed bill is likely to face significant push-back, the issue of “misclassification” has been in the forefront for lawmakers and regulators in recent years and is unlikely to go away soon. The broad scope of S. 1687 means employers will be well served to stay on top of this legislation should it move forward through Congress.
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