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We have awaited to see where the U.S. Department of Labor would land with its much anticipated revised “overtime rule” and late yesterday the agency delivered. The USDOL released its long-awaited proposed rule which, if adopted, would set the minimum salary threshold at $679 per week, or $35,308 per year. For now, the proposed rule does not include an automatic update provision (which many were concerned would simply serve to periodically inflate the threshold level), nor does it revise the duties test that accompanies the rule.
Once published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to submit comments regarding, among other things, the proposed minimum salary threshold.
Proposed Rule In A Nutshell
On Dec. 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law Congress’s tax reform legislation. The summary below addresses some of the changes that relate to compensation and employee benefits.
Individual shared responsibility – With respect to health care and employee benefits, the most important feature of the tax act is the elimination of the penalty on individual taxpayers who do not maintain minimum essential coverage. However, please note that this elimination of the penalty is prospective and only applies for months beginning after Dec. 31, 2018. Thus, the penalty remains fully in effect for 2018.
With the reduction in the penalty, some employers may see fewer employees enroll in health care coverage during their 2019 healthcare benefit open enrollment period. However, most employees will continue to view employers that offer health insurance coverage more favorably than those who do not. Therefore, offering health insurance will remain a valuable and tax-efficient recruiting and retention tool.
This may also reduce the number of individuals who enroll in healthcare through either the federal or various state specific healthcare marketplaces. However, premium tax credits will still be available for those individuals that purchase health insurance through these marketplaces. If enough healthy individuals drop their coverage, both the individual and employer group health market will likely see some cost increases to pay for the adverse selection impact of this change.
It is also important to remember that this change applies to the individual penalties only. The potential employer penalties for failing to offer coverage or offering inadequate coverage will remain, as well as the current law’s information reporting requirement.
After more than 15 months of waiting, the U.S. Department of Labor has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) announcing the Department’s intention to shrink dramatically the pool of employees who qualify for exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The 295-page NPRM, released June 30, contains a few specific changes to existing DOL regulations: more than doubling the salary threshold for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions from $455 a week currently to $921 a week (with a plan to increase that number to $970 a week in the final version of the regulation), as well as raising the pay thresholds for certain other exemptions, and building in room for future annual increases. More ominously, the Department invites comment on a host of other issues. This opens the door to many further significant revisions to the regulations in a Final Rule after the Department reviews the public’s comments to the NPRM.
On March 13, 2014, President Obama directed the Secretary of Labor to modernize and streamline the existing overtime regulations for exempt executive, administrative, and professional employees. He said the compensation paid to these employees has not kept pace with America’s economy since the Department last revised regulations in 2004. The President noted that the minimum annual salary level for these exempt classifications under the 2004 regulations is $23,660, which is below the poverty line for a family of four.
Since the President issued his memo, the Department has held meetings with a variety of stakeholders, including employers, workers, trade associations, and other advocates. The Department has raised questions about how the current regulations work and how they can be improved. The discussions have focused on the compensation levels for the exempt classifications as well as the duties required to qualify for exempt status.
The NPRM expressed the Department’s intention to increase the salary threshold for the white-collar exemptions from $455 a week (or $23,660 a year) to $921 a week ($47,892 a year), which the Department expects to revise to $970 a week ($50,440 a year in 2016) when it issues its Final Rule. Under this single change to the regulations, it is estimated that 4.6 million currently exempt employees would lose their exemption right away, with another 500,000 to 1 million currently exempt employees losing exempt status over the next 10 years as a result of the automatic increases to the salary threshold.
The NPRM acknowledges that roughly 25% of all employees currently exempt and subject to the salary basis requirement will be rendered non-exempt under the proposed regs. The Department recognizes that employers are likely to reduce the working hours of currently exempt employees reclassified as a result of these regulations, and that the reduction in hours will probably lead to lower overall pay for these employees.
Related changes in the regs include increasing the annual compensation threshold for exempt highly compensated employees from the present level of $100,000 to a proposed $122,148, as well as raising the exemption threshold for the motion picture producing industry from the present $695 a week to a proposed $1,404 a week for employees compensated on a day-rate basis.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the likely impact of the proposal, almost all of the NPRM is devoted to economic analysis and justification for the steep increase in the salary thresholds. Nevertheless, the NPRM touches on some other topics as well. The Department states that it is considering, and invites comment on, a wide range of topics, including:
What Comes Next?
The proposed regulations are subject to a 30-day public comment period. Now is the time for any employer or trade association dissatisfied with the proposed regulatory text, or concerned about changes the Department is weighing for inclusion in a Final Rule, to submit comments. The Department has put the regulated public on notice: it is considering sweeping changes to the regulations not described specifically in the proposed regulatory text, such as altering the duties tests for exempt status. Employers may not have another opportunity to comment on the content of a Final Rule.
Following the public comment period, the Department will issue a Final Rule that may add, change, delete, or affirm the regulatory text of the proposal. The Office of Management and Budget will review the Final Rule before publication. This process is likely to take at least six to eight months. A Final Rule is not expected before 2016.
While waiting for the pending issuance of the proposed Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) white-collar regulations, employers can begin taking some steps now to prepare.
Many believe the proposed regulations will be issued in March, although the proposed regs haven’t been sent yet to the Office of Management and Budget.
It is rumored that California’s quantitative duties test may be applied to the FLSA executive exemption, which would require employees to spend at least 50 percent of their time in exempt work in order to be classified as exempt. An adviser stated they would be surprised if thequantitative duties test was limited to the executive exemption and feel it might be applied as well to the administrative and professional exemptions.
Employers may begin doing an analysis now on their exempt population and how this change would affect them.
For many companies, some classes of employees are nonexempt in California, but exempt in the rest of the country. That may change with the new rule as well, if California’s quantitative duties test is applied across the nation.
Five Key Steps
Various legal counsel recommends five key steps employers should take now in anticipation of the revised overtime regulations:
Employers should begin now by talking to the managers or supervisors responsible for these exempt employees to determine the actual job duties for the employees as opposed to the stated job duties, because it’s the facts that matter most.
Employers need to know their workforce and be proactive. They should identify those exempt positions whose classification barely meets the FLSA minimum qualifications for a white-collar exemption under either the duties or compensation components. If either the duty or salary component is affected by regulatory changes, employers will know these identified positions will be targeted first.
The more lead time that a business has to grapple with these issues, the more satisfactory the process and the outcome will be for everyone.