Department of Labor

President Trump Says “Not So Fast” — The Future of Overtime, Fiduciary, and Pay Reporting Rules Remains Uncertain Under the Trump Administration

On January 20, 2017, shortly after Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, his Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, issued an Executive Memorandum mandating a 60-day freeze on published federal regulations that have yet to take effect to allow Trump’s appointees time to review the regulations. Although such action is fairly standard during a change of administration, the impact could be significant if certain regulations set to take effect in 2017 are delayed or ultimately replaced.  Regulations potentially affected by the 60-day freeze include the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) overtime and fiduciary rules, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) EEO-1 pay reporting requirements.

DOL Overtime Rule

In May 2016, the DOL announced significant changes to the overtime rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). As we’ve previously blogged about here, the overtime rules mandated that, beginning December 1, 2016, the salary requirement for exempt employees would increase by nearly double – from $23,660 to $47,476 per year.  Under these new rules, employees who earn less than $47,476 would no longer meet the overtime exemption from the FLSA, and would be entitled to overtime compensation for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

The new overtime rules made headlines late last year when a federal district court in Texas issued a preliminary injunction enjoining its implementation.  The decision was issued on November 22, 2016, just days before the new rules were set to take effect.

Between the ongoing litigation over the legality of the overtime rules and the recent 60-day regulatory freeze, the future of the overtime rules remains uncertain. Other than publicly advocating a small-business exemption, Trump has remained non-committal about the overtime rules and has not signaled whether he will ask the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to drop its defense of the matter.  Notably, the DOJ has sought a stay in the ligation while the new administration reconsiders its position.  As a practical matter, this places employers in a difficult position.  Many employers already implemented changes to comply with the new overtime rules in anticipation of the December 1, 2016 effective date, by increasing salaries, reducing workforces, cutting benefits, and changing employees’ schedules.  In addition, the language in the Executive Memorandum could also muddy the waters.  The Executive Memorandum provides for postponing, for 60 days, published regulations that “have not taken effect.”  Employee advocates have argued that, as the effective date for the overtime regulations was December 1, 2016, the Executive Memorandum does not apply.  This hyper-technical reading would likely be rejected by a court.  And, the argument has no practical effect as the rule is enjoined.

DOL Fiduciary Rule

The Executive Memorandum, however, will not stop the fiduciary rule train. It became effective on June 7, 2016.  The fiduciary rule, which is scheduled to be phased in starting April 10, 2017 through January 1, 2018, expands the definition of “investment advice fiduciary” under ERISA to include persons who provide investment advice or recommendations for a fee or other compensation with respect to retirement accounts.  Under the new rule, investment advice includes recommendations regarding the advisability of buying or selling securities or other investment property and recommendations as to the management of securities or other investment property.

Being a fiduciary requires financial professionals to put their clients’ best interests above their own. As a result, financial professionals who earn commissions are required, under the new rule, to provide clients with a Best Interest Contract Exemption disclosing potential conflicts of interest, fees or charges to be paid by the investor, and compensation the fiduciary expects to receive in connection with recommended investments.  The impact of the new rule on the financial services industry is significant due to the potential for lost commissions and the additional expense of complying with the heightened fiduciary standard.

Financial professionals are left to hoping that the new administration will roll back the rule. However, barring extraordinary action by Congress, there may be little that Trump can do on his own as the rule was promulgated through notice and comment rulemaking.  Further, rolling back the rule does not appear to be a high priority. Trump has not taken a position publicly on the fiduciary rule.  However, he generally supports broad roll backs of regulations and, Anthony Scaramucci, one of his key advisors, has publicly promised to repeal the fiduciary rule.  Those in the financial services industry who have already taken steps to comply with the new rules in anticipation of the April 10, 2017 implementation date should continue their efforts until they receive a clear signal from the administration or Congress.

EEOC Revised EEO-1 Form

On September 29, 2016, the EEOC announced approval of a revised EEO-1 form to collect pay data from employers with 100 or more employees beginning with the 2017 report to be submitted by March 31, 2018.   It is unclear what effect, if any, the 60-day regulatory freeze will have on the pay reporting requirements because, technically, the information collection procedures for the form did not have an effective date.  However, as Trump has already appointed a new EEOC Chair, Victoria Lipnic, signs point to a rollback.

The revised EEO-1 form requires certain employers to submit summary pay data, including the total number of full and part-time employees employed during the year in each of twelve pay bands listed for each job category on the EEO-1. Pay data is based on employees’ W-2 forms.  The revised EEO-1 form does not require employers to report individual pay or salaries.  Additionally, employers required to submit an EEO-1 form must report the number of hours worked during the year by employees in each pay band.  According to the EEOC, the purpose of collecting pay data from employers is to allow the EEOC to better assess allegations of pay discrimination, but many fear that providing pay data without context will fuel costly, meritless class action lawsuits.

Many predict that the future of the EEOC’s pay reporting rule is vulnerable under the Trump administration, while others believe that Ivanka Trump’s statements in support of equal pay may not indicate a complete pullback of the pay equity focus. Regardless of whether the 60-day freeze affects the pay reporting requirements, the issue of pay equity will be at the forefront of legal issues facing employers in 2017.  This blog will continue to provide updates as new developments occur.

More Questions for Employers As DOL Appeals Preliminary Injunction of Overtime Rules

On December 1, 2016, the date that the Department of Labor regulations were set to become effective, the government filed a notice of appeal [link to http://dciconsult.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/DOL-appeal.pdf] of the November 22, 2016 the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas’s Order granting a nationwide preliminary injunction “from implementing and enforcing” the DOL’s new overtime regulations. Those regulations would have raised the minimum salary level for exempt employees from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $913 per week ($47,476 annually). The Court’s ruling was based, in part, on its holding that the DOL exceeded its delegated authority by changing the salary basis test at a level that was contrary to Congress’ intent that executive, administrative and professional employees be exempted from coverage of the FLSA. A full copy of the injunction order can be found here. In the wake of the Court’s ruling and now uncertain future regarding the DOL’s new overtime rules, we thought it would be helpful to provide some interim guidance on frequently asked questions we have received since the Court’s ruling.  READ MORE

Pay Raises Across the Nation? Not So Fast Say Several States and Business Groups: 21 States and 55 Business Groups Challenge New Federal Overtime Rule

On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, twenty-one states filed a complaint in federal court in Texas challenging the new overtime rule finalized by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) in May of this year.  The States seek to prevent implementation of the new rule, which is scheduled to become effective on December 1, 2016.  That same day, fifty-five business groups, including several chambers of commerce, filed a similar lawsuit in Texas federal court to block the rule.

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To Free or Not to Free: The DOL’s New Overtime Regulations May Give Employees the Ability to “Unplug”—But at What Cost?

Today, mobile technology allows many exempt employees to work remotely and perform work outside traditional working hours.  Some commentators assert that the smartphone has stretched the traditional 9-to-5 workday into a 24/7 on-call period, where employees are expected to respond to work-related communications long after they leave the office and late into the night.  The expectation that employees will be available to respond on evenings and weekends, however, has sparked pushback, causing some employees to call for more work-life separation and the ability to “unplug.”  In France, this push to unplug recently resulted in a new law that gives employees a “right to disconnect.”  Under that law, many French employers soon will be required to implement rules governing work-life balance and reasonable use of digital tools.

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It’s All a Matter of Degree – Fourth Circuit Upholds Four-Year Front Pay Award and Tuition Reimbursement in SOX Case

*This post was drafted with contribution from Ashley Gambone, law clerk.

Affirming a SOX victory for an employee, the Fourth Circuit in a 2-1 decision in Gunther v. Deltek upheld a Department of Labor award of four-years of front pay to a former financial analyst of a software firm and also affirmed an award of tuition reimbursement for a four-year, full time, college degree program.  The Fourth Circuit’s Gunther decision discusses the standards for proving or disproving a causal connection in SOX cases, for meeting the after-acquired evidence standard to cut off damages, and for proving entitlement to front pay and other damages under SOX.

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Digging Into the New Overtime Regulations

In 2015, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) proposed substantial changes to the minimum salary level requirements, sought input on whether bonuses and incentives should be included in meeting the salary level test and considered changing the duties test to establish overtime eligibility. Taken together, these proposed changes would have had a drastic effect on the obligation of employers to pay overtime. On May 18, 2016, DOL issued its Final Rules and employers have until December 1, 2016 to comply. Overall, the changes strike a middle ground as DOL declined to adopt the more restrictive California 50% duties test. However, doubling the salary level threshold and other changes present significant economic and compliance challenges for employers. Below is a summary of key takeaways and steps employers should consider to address these changes and ensure compliance.

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Not So Fast: Administrative Review Board Vacates Discrimination Finding Sought by OFCCP

A recent decision from the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board serves as a warning to federal agencies against overreaching in their efforts to identify alleged employment discrimination.  It also serves to highlight the heavy burden that plaintiffs—whether government agencies or private litigants—must carry in cases alleging a pattern or practice of disparate treatment.

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We Get Out Our Crystal Balls on the Imminent DOL Overtime Rules

The prognostication efforts are going into high gear as employers seek to forecast and prepare where the Department of Labor may land on its final overtime rules.  As with all rules in the post-comment phase, government officials have not given any indication on when the final rules will be published (and become effective) or what they will contain.  Our insight is the final rule will be published ahead of schedule before the July regulatory agenda date, perhaps as soon as later this month.  The Congressional Review Act deadlines (described here) strongly indicate that the DOL will seek to avoid the prospect of any effective congressional action on the final rules.  As to the final rule’s content, we believe that the Office of Management and Budget and DOL are taking into account the political winds and other considerations before making a final decision.  Once published, however, the DOL can set the effective dates as early as 60 days which would give employers a very difficult compliance burden.

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DOL and EEOC to Make 2016 A Challenging Year for Employers

Members of the Fair Labor Standards Legislation Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Labor and Employment Law recently met.  The meeting includes employer and employee advocates, as well as government officials.  The meeting often highlights not only the present status of regulations, policy and pending litigation but also provides a window into coming trends that may be important for employers.  We highlight a few takeaways.

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One Step Closer to Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) continues its regulatory dash to fulfill the President’s domestic agenda.  The agency issued proposed rules, that seek to make President Obama’s Executive Order 13706, Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors signed on September 7, 2015, into a reality.  The DOL solicits any comments on the proposed rules on or before March 28, 2016.  Once effective, employees of certain federal contractors would be entitled to paid leave akin to the leave now in place in 4 states, the District of Columbia, and 27 other localities that are entitled to paid sick leave.

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