04/14/16

Republicans are Making a Last Ditch Effort to Stop the Overtime Salary Threshold Increase

As I have reported previously President Obama and the Department Of Labor have instituted an update to the salary threshold for an overtime exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Currently the white collar exemptions to the overtime and minimum wage laws require an employee be paid a salary of at least $455 a week. This number was last increased by President George W. Bush in 2004.

The DOL rule raises the salary threshold to  equal the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time, salaried workers, bringing it to a projected level of $970 per week, or about $50,440 annually.

The rule is in the last stage of discussions and may be in effect later this year.

Of course the Republican party is fighting hard to prevent anything that might help American workers. On March 17 the GOP senate introduced the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act. The act would nullify any rule changes by the DOL and require any change to the current white collar exemptions be made by statute rather than administrative rule changes.

Hopefully President Obama will use his veto power to stop this bill from becoming law if it passes the House and Senate. The DOL rule change will be one of President Obama’s greatest accomplishments. And it is another reason why electing the Democratic Party candidate as President is so vitally important.

 

03/16/16

The Tip Credit Makes an Appearance on the Campaign Trail

So far this election season there has not been much said about how the candidates might change our current employment laws. I think we might still be at the stage of the campaigns where candidates are trying to tell a broader narrative and they will fill in the details later on.

However, at least one of the candidates has made statements that make me excited about the future of America’s employment laws.

The most important, specific employment law proposal I have heard so far has come from Hillary Clinton.

As I have explained elsewhere, currently individuals who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips can be paid a “tip credit” minimum wage of $2.13 an hour with tips making up the difference between $2.13 and the regular minimum wage of $7.25.

Employers love being able to pay less than the regular minimum wage. Even though the employer is supposed to pay the tipped employee the difference if the tips plus cash wage do not add up to $7.25 for all hours worked in a work week, it rarely happens that way.

At a New York City rally earlier this month Clinton said :

““It is time we end the so-called tipped minimum wage. We are the only industrialized country in the world that requires tipped workers to take their income in tips instead of wages. That’s shameful.”

It appears Clinton is proposing all employers be required to pay their employees the full federal minimum wage regardless of whether the employee receives tips from customers.

Of course the restaurant industry will fight Clinton’s proposal tooth and nail. There will probably be the usual cries of firings and business closings as far as the eye can see. At least eight states have abolished the tip credit under their state laws. Funnily enough, restaurants still exist in those states.

01/30/16

Don’t Quit Your Job Just Yet!

Happy New Year everyone! Usually this time of year I write a “employment law new year’s resolutions” post. This year I can’t think of a good list of tips and pointers. But I do have one thing I have been thinking about lately regarding how best to leave one job and transition into another.

As I have written about in previous posts, many employers are asking their employees to sign lots of paperwork before they start a new job. This paperwork usually includes minor acknowledgments or releases. However, nowadays the paperwork more often than not will include a number of restrictive covenants, arbitration agreements, and waivers of the right to bring a lawsuit as part of a collective or group.

Restrictive covenants might prevent you from engaging in your profession within a certain area for a number of years. Arbitration agreements force you to allow an arguably biased private judge to decide your case. And waiving your right to engage in a collective action gives the employer a license to steal from you in amounts small enough that it would be difficult or inefficient to get a lawyer to represent you.

The increase in amount and the “severity” of today’s paperwork impacts what one needs to do when they plan on leaving a job to start a job at a different company.

The problem begins when you wait until your first day at the new job to find out exactly what you will be asked to sign. When the HR rep drops a stack of paperwork in front of you and tells you to sign, what are you supposed to do? Are you going to complain or refuse? Will you ask them to change a clause or provision in the agreements? Maybe. But what leverage do you have? All you can do if they refuse to allow you not to sign something or change something is to threaten to not take the job. But you are now in the position of having quit your previous job, so if you actually refuse to sign and leave you don’t have any job. Someone in the position of having no job unless they sign some paperwork will probably just suck it up and sign the paperwork no matter what it all says.

A better course of action is to do anything that might maximize your leverage, which in this case is do everything possible to allow you to be able to walk away from a bad agreement.

A way to do this is to ask the prospective new employer to send you all the pre-employment paperwork before you give notice at your current job. This means you can see what you will be asked to sign with time to think about what you are being asked to sign. Getting the paperwork while you still work at your old job also allows you to ask for the new job to make changes to what they are asking you to sign. It is much easier to make those asks when you are able to legitimately walk away because you still have your old job.

Negotiating is a lot about how much and what type of leverage each party brings to the table. Maximizing your leverage helps you to get the best possible agreement. Don’t throw away your leverage by quitting your old job to soon.

If you are in Georgia and have a question about your rights at work contact Atlanta employment lawyer Ben Kandy.

This post does not create, and is not intended to create, an attorney/client relationship between the reader and attorney Benjamin Kandy. If you have any questions about your rights speak to an attorney in your state. Please see our disclaimer page.

 

 

 

11/30/15

My Previous Employer Won’t Give Me My Last Paycheck. What Can I Do!?

I get calls all the time from people who did not receive their last paycheck from their previous employer. It seems like employers can feel like they can “punish” employees they don’t like by withholding their last check. The assumption appears to be because the amount owed is usually relatively small the employee won’t bother, or won’t be able to afford to hire a lawyer to help them get their money.

I’m happy to say those employers are very, very wrong. There are a number of ways an employee can get their last paycheck that will cost the employer a lot more than just paying the money when it was owed.

Method One – A Contracts Claim:

The first way one can get their last paycheck is by bringing a contracts claim against their previous employer. In Georgia, an employment agreement is only a contract if it includes a term of service (e.g. “This agreement is to last from January 1st to December 31st of this calendar year.”) so without a specifying a term in the agreement an employer can change an employee’s pay, working conditions, hours, etc. moving forward at any time. However, an employer can’t change an employee’s pay retroactively. For example, if you were being paid $500 a week and paychecks were distributed on Friday afternoons an employer can’t tell you on the Friday that your paycheck will be $400 for the previous week. The employer would have to tell you on the Friday that starting next week you will be paid $400 instead of $500 a week.

If the employer changes an employee’s pay retroactively the employee can bring a claim saying essentially “we had an agreement that I would work a certain amount and you would pay me a certain amount. I did the work but you didn’t pay me the amount we agreed.”

A problem with bringing this kind of claim is, at least in Georgia, each side will probably be responsible for paying their lawyer. In the US the default rule is each side pays their own attorney as opposed to Britain for example where the loser pays the winner’s attorney’s fees. Because the employee would be responsible for paying their lawyer it is very possible it will cost more in attorney fees to get the final paycheck than the amount of money owed. It is also unlikely an attorney will work on a “no win, no fee” basis when the amount in question is small.

Method Two – A Minimum Wage Claim

Another type of claim that can help an employee get a final paycheck, or even more, is a minimum wage claim. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) most hourly workers and many salaried workers must be paid at least the minimum wage for each hour worked. If an employer fails to pay an employee their last paycheck then they failed to pay the employee at least the minimum wage for the hours they worked in the final pay period.

Because the national minimum wage in the US is only $7.25 an hour you might think anyone who makes more than that will receive less than they are owed for their final paycheck if they bring a minimum wage claim. But the FLSA has what is called a liquidated damages provision which requires an employee who has to go after their unpaid minimum wage an extra amount of damages equal to the unpaid minimum wage. Essentially, the employee is owed their unpaid minimum wage times 2.

This means if you earn less than $14.50 an hour (7.25 minimum wage times 2 = 14.5), you will receive more money if you bring a minimum wage claim than a contract claim.

The other reason a minimum wage claim is such a strong tool is because the FLSA has what is called a “shall pay” attorney’s fee provision. This means the employer must pay the employee’s attorney’s fees when the employee brings a minimum wage claim under the FLSA. Even if the employee is owed one hour of unpaid minimum wage the employer has to pay for what it cost the attorney in fees to collect that one hour.

Because of the strong attorney’s fee provision an employee may be able to find an attorney to help them even if the employee is only owed a small amount of money. The FLSA was designed to make sure lawyers had an incentive to help employees recover even the smallest amount of unpaid minimum wage or overtime.

Even if you are normally exempt from the minimum wage or overtime laws and are paid a salary you might still be able to bring a minimum wage claim. In fact, a minimum wage claim might be especially valuable to people paid a low salary.

To be exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements an employee must be paid at least $455 a week in salary and meet certain duties tests. Because an employee can (at the moment) be paid is little as $455 a week to be exempt, their hourly rate can get really, really low. For instance, $500 a week working 50 hours a week is an effective hourly rate of $10

Because most of the exemptions from the FLSA require the employee be paid at least $455 a week in salary, when an employee does not receive their final paycheck they can not be considered exempt. If the employee is not paid anything for a pay period then they could not have been paid at least $455 a week in at least one workweek, depending on the length of the pay period. So an employee who is not given their final paycheck is not exempt from the minimum wage requirements and must be paid at least $7.25 an hour for all hours worked plus an equal amount in liquidated damages.

That’s not all. If the employee who did not receive their last paycheck also worked more than 40 hours then they are also owed overtime. Overtime would be time and a half the hourly rate which is minimum wage. 7.25 *1.5 = 10.88. So the employee would be owed $10.88 for every hour over 40 worked in a workweek that is supposed to be covered by the missing paycheck. Finally, the employee would be owed liquidated damages as well in an amount equal to the unpaid overtime.

As you can see, there are a number of different ways to get your money when your employer won’t give you your final paycheck. It is also well worth your time.

If you are in Georgia, particularly the Atlanta metro area, and you did not receive your last paycheck call or email employment law attorney Ben Kandy.

10/19/15

Georgia and Ban the Box

A criminal record can be a real hindrance for individuals leaving jail or prison and trying to integrate back into their communities. Almost every job today does a criminal background check before hiring a potential employee. Some jobs even ask about and check for past arrests to disqualify applicants.

Past criminal histories make it very difficult for many people to get a job. There has been a push around the country for “ban the box” laws making it illegal for employers to use an applicant’s prior criminal history as an automatic disqualifier for a job.

I’m usually not a huge fan of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, but credit where credit is due. Governor Deal signed an executive order on February 23rd, 2015 prohibiting agencies from using a prior criminal history as an automatic disqualifier for job applicants.

Ban the box has the ability to make a real impact on lots of lives. Not being able to get a job makes it almost certain an ex-prisoner will re-offend. Even though Governor Deal’s order only applies to state agencies, it will still help all Georgia’s ex-offenders in other ways. One result of criminal backgrounds being an automatic disqualifier for many jobs is shady and unethical employers take advantage of desperate job seekers. I recently worked on a case where the employer hired people from halfway houses specifically because they thought those people wouldn’t complain about unpaid overtime. Making it possible for ex-offenders to get state jobs means those unscrupulous employers have less desperate workers to steal from.

Georgia has joined fourteen states in prohibiting state agencies using criminal history as an instant disqualifier for state jobs. Hopefully it will help lower recidivism and strengthen communities.

 

Benjamin Kandy is an Atlanta employment lawyer. Nothing herein is intended to create an attorney client relationship.

 

10/6/15

What is the Difference Between “At Will” and “Right to Work”?

Sometimes I will be speaking to a potential client about what they think was an unlawful termination and they will say something like “I know Georgia is a right to work state” or “even though Georgia is a right to work state…”. I have to stop them because they are confusing two different concepts.

At will and right to work are unrelated concepts that have somehow become intertwined in the public consciousness. Every state in the US is “at will”, but not every state is “right to work”.

At will employment is something I have written about before. In essence, at will employment means both employer and employee can end the employment relationship at anytime for any reason. At will employment was developed during the late 19th century and became the general rule across the US by the 20th century. The at will doctrine governs the relationship with between the employer and the employee.

In contrast, right to work has nothing to do with the relationship between the employer and the employee. Right to work is a relatively new concept that has been part of a conscious push by business interests to weaken the power of labor unions. In a nutshell, right to work law allow non-union members in union organized workplaces avoid paying certain union dues.

Right to work laws originate out of the changes to the National Labor Relations Act of 1931 made as part of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Taft-Hartley allowed individual states to outlaw “union security” which created the conditions to implement right to work laws.

Currently 25 states have right to work law on the books. In these states the law can invalidate contracts made between the employer and a union. In the other 25 states there are no right to work laws, but every state employment is still at will.

It’s not a huge deal to mix up at will and right to work. I’m not a big fan of the concept of at will employment, but it has a history. Right to work has a short but dishonorable history rooted in anti-union feelings fuelled by up anti-communism (and racism). Mixing at will and right to work gives right to work laws some of the historical credibility of at will employment. It kind of makes right to work seem old and “the way it has always been” when in fact many states’ right to work laws were only passed in the last couple of decades.

Hopefully this article has helped to explain the difference between at will employment and right to work laws. If you are in Georgia and have questions please contact employment law attorney Benjamin Kandy.

 

09/2/15

CNAs and other Home Health Care Aides Get a Break. DC Circuit Court Upholds the DOL’s Changes to the “Companionship Exemption” Under the FLSA

A while back I wrote about the Department of Labor’s proposed changes to the “companionship exemption” under the Fair Labor Standards Act(“FLSA”). The FLSA contained an exemption to the rules regarding overtime pay for individuals who performed personal care services in their client’s private homes. This overtime exemption meant home health aides, CNAs, and other similar workers were not paid overtime if they worked outside of a facility like a nursing home. I was excited about the DOL’s proposed changes. The most important change was the exemption could no longer apply to workers hired by a third party like an agency. Home health care assistance is a huge and growing field serviced primarily by women with many of the workers being immigrants and people of color. The exemption meant these workers could work long, long weeks and get paid as little as a flat rate of $7.25 for all hours worked.

Unsurprisingly home health care agencies and lobbying groups quickly attacked the new rule and sued the DOL. I wrote about how the challengers were successful in having the DOLs new rule struck down by a federal district court judge.

Well I am very happy to announce the DOL appealed and the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the first judge’s decision. The Court’s August 21st decision upheld the DOL’s regulation. Specifically, the court held the Department has the authority to interpret the FLSA statute in regards to the companionship exemption. Therefore the Department is allowed to interpret the statute to mean home health care aides hired through a third party are no longer exempt from being paid overtime.

Of course, there could be an appeal to Supreme Court. Other than that it appears as if home health care aides employed through a third party will soon need to be paid overtime for all the hard work they do.

 

08/2/15

Some New Guidance on the Independent Contractor Vs. Employee Question

The gig economy; it seems like we hear more and more about people to working as independent contractors for companies like Lyft or Uber. There has been some push back from state and local government. Now the federal government has put in their own two cents in regards to the independent contractor vs employee question.

David Weil, the administrator of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division released an opinion letter on July 15th clarifying the Department’s view on when a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

According to the Department, for the purposes of the FLSA the test for determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor is multi-factorial “economic realities” test rather than the common law control test. It is also important that “The application of the economic realities factors must be consistent with the broad “suffer or permit to work” standard of the FLSA.”

The economic realities test requires a court to look at:

  1. the nature and degree of the employer’s control over the time, manner and method of the worker’s work;
  2. the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss;
  3. the worker’s investment in equipment, materials or their own employees;
  4. whether the worker’s position required special skill;
  5. whether the services provided by the workers were an integral part of employer’s business; and
  6. whether the relationship was permanent.

The ultimate question is one of economic dependence. “Each factor should be considered in light of the ultimate determination of whether the worker is really in business for him or herself (and thus is an independent contractor) or is economically dependent on the employer (and thus is its employee).” It is more than just the day to day control considered under the common law control test. An individual can be an other person’s employee even if the employer does not exercise much day to day control over how the individual performs their work.

The opinion letter concludes with this remark:

“In sum, most workers are employees under the FLSA’s broad definitions. The very broad definition of employment under the FLSA as “to suffer or permit to work” and the Act’s intended expansive coverage for workers must be considered when applying the economic realities factors to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.”

This opinion letter confirms the department is making correct classification a priority. It is also clear that most people who work for someone else are employees.

If you are currently classified as an independent contractor please speak to an attorney. Most independent contractors are actually employees. Your employer might even use a different word for your relationship than independent contractor. The Department has seen an increasing number of instances where employees are labeled something else, such as “owners,” “partners,” or “members of a limited liability company.”

Here in Atlanta, Georgia there are plenty of companies trying to get around worker protections by classifying their workers as something other than employees.

If you have any questions about your employment relationship and you are in the State of Georgia, call or email Atlanta employment law attorney Benjamin Kandy.

06/30/15

He Did It! President Obama Announces an Increase in the Overtime Salary Threshold

The other day I mentioned President Obama and the Department of Labor were working on new overtime rules and these rules were due to be announced soon. Well this morning it happened.

In a Huffington Post editorial President Obama announced “This week, I’ll head to Wisconsin to discuss my plan to extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million workers in 2016, covering all salaried workers making up to about $50,400 next year.”

Currently an employee making at least $455 a week and performing certain duties does not need to be paid overtime. This means there are some “managers” out there, especially in food service and retail, making around $24,000 a year while working crazy hours. This new rule would mean those employees have to be either be paid more, around $969 a week, to keep their exemption or the employer will have to pay them overtime.

The President’s proposed rule will move the threshold to where it was in 1975 dollars.

Implementing the new rules won’t be easy. There will be a fight with Republicans as well as the business community. There will be lawsuits and the GOP may try to use legislative changes or the reconciliation process to block the new rules.

Hopefully these new rules actually happen unlike the home health care changes that were dropped during the implementation process. This change to the overtime rules will help millions of American workers and are long overdue. Thanks Obama!

06/22/15

It’s happening? It’s happening! The Department of Labor will soon release new rules regarding the salary threshold for paying overtime

As I have discussed previously, there has been talk for years about the Obama administration raising the threshold of the salary required to be exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Currently if a person earns more than $455 a week salary and meets certain duty tests then they do not need to be paid overtime. $455 a week works out to about $23,500 a year. If an employee was working only 45 hours a week for $455 it is an effective hourly rate of just $10.10 an hour.

Employers have abused this rule by doing things like paying a “manager” just over $455 a week and having them work crazy hours splitting their time between management and general employee duties like cleaning or serving customers. This allows the company to hire less people while legally working the “manager” half to death. The original intention behind overtime laws was specifically to give employers an incentive to share work rather than employing as few people as possible and working them until they break. This new threshold will help uphold the original intent behind the FLSA.

There are rumors the new threshold will be around $52,000 a year. The overtime threshold is not indexed to inflation and has been updated only once since 1975. It currently covers 12 percent of salaried workers. Boosting the threshold to $50,440 would bring it back in line with the 1975 threshold, after inflation. By one estimate that would give somewhere between five to ten million workers a raise.

The new rules are also expected to tighten the various duties tests for white-collar employees. As the American economy has moved from manufacturing to the service sector fewer and fewer employees are eligible for overtime pay. This is a vestige from a time when there were fewer low-paying white collar jobs. The new tests will hopefully focus on the employee’s role in the workplace rather than the white collar/blue collar distinction.

On June 10th the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee held a hearing in regards to a number of wage and hour issues. Predictably the GOP controlled committee and the business community invited to testify cried and moaned about how a change in the threshold will be the end of the Republic and might actually kill people. Not really, but they did complain about “flexibility”, “job-killing”, and other related buzzwords that always seem to come up whenever the people use the power of the state to help labor vis a vis capital.

Unfortunately the rules will not be easily implemented. Business groups will almost certainly sue the administration trying to stop the changes and Republicans will do everything they can to help their big business friends. Unions and progressive groups are working hard to support the Obama administration, but the President needs as much support as he can get.

One way to help make sure these new rules are instituted quickly is to submit a comment supporting the changes during the notice-and-comment period. This will help show everyone involved there is a groundswell of popular support for making sure overtime pay applies to the people it was intended to help.