As we recently reported, the DOL promulgated three new final rules regarding wage and hour issues last month. One of these rules brings a much-needed dose of clarity for certain employers on an unusually thorny issue: what exactly is a “retail or service establishment” for purposes of the “retail exemption” under Section 7(i) of the FLSA? This section exempts certain commissioned employees in “retail or service establishments” from the FLSA’s overtime compensation requirement, but the list of qualified employers has been notoriously confusing and vague. Effective May 19, 2020, the DOL’s final rule nixed its almost half-century old catalog of qualifying establishments and adopted a new and uniform framework for determining eligibility for the exemption. READ MORE
In a possible attempt to implement new rules before they can be rescinded by a Democratic Congress and administration, the Department of Labor recently finalized regulations regarding wage and hour issues and the Labor Secretary’s power to review administrative decisions. These administrative moves are the result of a little-known but important statute aimed at curbing midnight rulemaking by outgoing administrations. The Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) establishes special congressional procedures for disapproving a broad range of regulatory rules issued by federal agencies. By joint resolution, Congress can approve or disapprove of a regulation, which then goes to the President to sign or veto. If Congress adjourns its annual session less than 60 “legislative days” in the House of Representatives or 60 “session days” in the Senate after a rule is submitted to it, the rule is carried over to the next session of Congress and subject to possible disapproval during that session. While it is difficult to calculate the CRA deadline—particularly given COVID-19’s impact on Congress’ schedule—if the Trump administration fails to finalize the rules before the CRA deadline and Republicans lose control of the White House and Senate, a Democratic-controlled Congress could successfully rescind the rules under the CRA. READ MORE
On September 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced its final rule updating the earnings thresholds necessary to exempt executive, administrative, and professional employees from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. According to the DOL’s press release, “[t]he increases to the salary thresholds are long overdue in light of wage and salary growth since 2004,” and the DOL estimates that 1.3 million additional workers will be entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay as a result of the new regulations. READ MORE
We are halfway through 2019, and while many employees prepare for summer vacation, California employers in various cities should brace themselves for an additional round of minimum wage increases on July 1, 2019.
Another raise, already?
As you may recall, on January 1, 2019, California raised the statewide minimum wage rate to $12.00 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees, and $11.00 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees. And the California minimum wage is set to increase to $15.00 per hour for all employers by January 2023. READ MORE
On December 21, 2018, the Department of Labor issued two opinion letters regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The first opinion letter explains that an employer failed to comply with the FLSA’s overtime requirements when it designated a standard regular rate of pay for overtime purposes and the actual regular rate of pay exceeded that amount. The second opinion letter found that certain members of a religious organization were not employees under the FLSA, but, even if considered employees, qualified for the ministerial exception. This blog post explores both letters. READ MORE
Some positive news for those employers that retain independent contractors. On October 22, 2018, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, held that the Dynamex “ABC” test (which we previously discussed here) to determine whether an independent contractor is an employee, only applies to wage order claims. But the case is a mixed bag and is a reminder that post-Dynamex, hiring parties bear a heavier burden to overcome the presumption that all workers are employees.
The case is Jesus Cuitlahuac Garcia v. Border Transportation Group, LLC, et al., involving plaintiff Jesus Garcia (“Garcia”), a taxi driver, who brought a wage and hour lawsuit against Border Transportation Group (“BTG”), with whom he drove taxi for several years. The trial court granted summary judgment for BTG, applying the decades-old multifactor S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations, 48 Cal. 3d 341 (1989) test and finding Garcia was an independent contractor, not an employee entitled to wage order protection. The trial court’s reasoning included that Garcia controlled the means and manner of his work and “could and did market his business in his own name.”
Garcia appealed, during which time the California Supreme Court decided Dynamex, adopting the “ABC” test to determine whether a worker is an employee. Under this test, a hired individual is presumed an employee and the burden lays entirely on the hiring party to rebut that presumption by showing:
- that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact;
- that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business;
- that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.
Turning first to Garcia’s wage order claims, the court focused on the “C” prong and found that BTG failed to carry its burden to show Garcia actually “provided services for other entities ‘independently’ of his relationship with BTG.” The court rejected BTGs reliance on Sebago v. Bos. Cab Dispatch, Inc., which focused the inquiry on whether the worker is permitted to establish an independent business operation. The court noted that Dynamex requires an “existing, not potential showing of independent business operation.” The court reversed summary judgment on the wage order claims.
But in positive news for hiring parties, turning next to Garcia’s non-wage-order claims, the court held the ABC test did not apply, and upheld summary adjudication as to those claims. The court explained that the Supreme Court did not reject the more flexible, multifactor Borello test in all instances, and that Borello applies when a cause of action is predicated solely on the Labor Code, while the ABC test is properly limited to wage-order claims. The court reasoned that the Supreme Court “recognized that different standards could apply to different statutory claims…” and emphasized that “primacy of statutory purpose” should resolve “the employee or independent contractor question.” The court found “no reason to apply the ABC test categorically to every working relationship, particularly when Borello…remains the standard for worker’s compensation.” And because the parties did not identify a “a basis to apply Dynamex to [the] non-wage-order claims,” the court concluded that Borello “furnished the proper standard as to those claims” without analyzing their primary statutory purposes.
Orrick will continue to track interpretations of the Dynamex case as they are published. For the latest employment law updates, subscribe to the Orrick Employment Law and Litigation Blog.
 Garcia’s non-wage-order claims included wrongful termination in violation of public policy, failure to pay overtime, and waiting time penalties.
This week, the United States Department Labor (“DOL”) is conducting its first listening session on the white collar exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)—more commonly known as the “overtime rule.” Several additional listening sessions will take place later this month. The sessions are expected to focus on public opinion regarding changing the current minimum salary level for exempt employees from its current level of $455 per week ($23,660 annually). There is no fee to attend a session, but registration is required here.
These sessions are just the latest in the ongoing saga over revisions to the overtime rule that began two years ago in September 2016, when twenty-two states and dozens of business groups challenged the Obama administration’s overtime regulation revisions that were finalized earlier that year. The new rule was set to implement several changes, most notably raising the minimum salary level for exempt employees to $913 per week ($47,476 annually), effective December 1, 2016. Before the new rule could take effect, the Texas federal judge hearing the case issued a nationwide injunction preventing the DOL from implementing and enforcing it, based partially on a holding that the new rule exceeded Congress’s delegation of authority to the DOL. The Obama administration appealed, and after requesting additional time to respond, the Trump administration decided to uphold the position that the DOL had the authority to revise the applicable salary level. However, in July 2017, the DOL also issued a Request for Information (“RFI”) on the overtime rule, asking for the public to submit comments by the end of September. The following month, the district court judge granted the states’ and business groups’ motions for summary judgment, invalidating the regulation. The DOL decided to dismiss its appeal and instead to pursue its own regulatory rulemaking process.
The RFI asked broad ranging questions related not only to the salary level, but to other exemption-related requirements, such as the duties test. It elicited over 140,000 public comments, including from major representative and advocacy organizations such as the United States Chamber of Commerce and Independent Sector (representing the nonprofit sector). The Chamber opposed only an “excessive increase,” suggesting that based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a more modest increase to a minimum salary of $612 per week ($31,824 annualized) was more appropriate. The Chamber also expressed its opposition to any change to the duties test. The Independent Sector highlighted the heavy financial burden the proposed increase would bring to the already-financially-strained nonprofit/charitable organizations nationwide. It suggested that any change be phased in to permit organizations time to adapt, and also expressed concern that any potential change to the duties test would “significantly impact the operations of charitable organizations,” asking that any change be considered through a formal rulemaking process allowing the public time to comment and review.
Last week’s announcement on the listening sessions offered our first glimpse into the DOL’s rulemaking process since the RFI period closed last year. Notably, the agenda questions focus exclusively on the salary test—a much narrower set of questions than those posed in the RFI. Listening Session participants are asked to focus on the four following issues: (1) “the appropriate salary level (or range of salary levels) above which the overtime exemptions for bona fide executive, administrative, or professional employees may apply”; (2) “[w]hat benefits and costs to employees and employers might accompany an increased salary level”; (3) “the best methodology to determine an updated salary level”; and (4) whether the DOL should “more regularly update the standard salary level and the total-annual-compensation level for highly compensated employees.” Noticeably absent is any indication that DOL is considering automatic inflationary updating to the salary level test. This reverts back to the position in the Bush DOL that the Department did not have statutory authority to implement automatic updating. In any event, this suggests that the DOL is shying away from changes to the duties test or other more expansive revisions as the formal rulemaking process rarely expands beyond the scope of the informal information gathering. The answer will have to wait until the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is released, which is expected in January, at the earliest.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that service advisers at car dealerships are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In Encino Motorcars v. Navarro, the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch voted to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on this exemption a second time, deciding that service advisors are “salesm[e]n . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles,” and thus are exempt from overtime pay. READ MORE
On August 31, 2017, Judge Amos Mazzant of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, issued an order invalidating the Obama-era overtime rules. Finding that the Department of Labor rule exceeded its statutory authority under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the district court appeared to end the saga that had employers furiously determining whether they were going to adjust the pay of a wide swath of their workforces last Fall. However, the decision does not close the books on whether changes to the FLSA white collar exemptions are on the horizon. READ MORE
The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District held that misclassification alone does not establish liability for overtime violations, and, thus, the fact that members of a putative class were classified as exempt was not sufficient to demonstrate the required commonality and typicality for a misclassification class action to proceed. The court in Kizer v. Tristar Risk Management held that in addition to alleging misclassification, the plaintiffs needed to prove that the misclassification caused harm. The standard announced by the Kizer Court augments the burden on plaintiffs in misclassification wage and hour class actions to establish commonality and typicality. On July 26, the decision was certified for publication. READ MORE