Meet the new rules with smart analysis, open communication and careful implementation
Employees who have never received overtime pay may soon fall under a new threshold set by the Department of Labor (DOL) and be eligible for extra pay when they work extra hours. Some may be so close to the annual earnings threshold that a small upward wage adjustment would be all that is needed to maintain the exemption after the December 1, 2016, implementation date. In both cases, employers who wrangle with compensation questions—as well as the entire management team—are put on the spot to analyze the impact of the DOL’s new overtime rules and develop a plan of action.
On the surface, it may seem that your business is in for higher payroll costs as the overtime regulations kick in—but that doesn’t have to be the case. With smart analysis, open communication and careful implementation, it may still be possible for covered entities to meet the new rules, keep employees happy, and have little or no impact on the bottom line.
Salary thresholds are going up…
The changes to federal overtime regulations released on May 18, 2016, are modifications of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which, among other things, established our familiar 40-hour work week. But the number that everyone is talking about is the annual earnings threshold for “white-collar” exempt employees. In December, the salary level will be raised from the current $23,660 in annual wages ($455 per week) to $47,476 ($913 per week). It’s a significant increase that might put millions of new workers in a position to be paid time-and-a-half for clocking in more than a standard 40-hour week.
How to determine who is eligible for an exemption
In order to qualify for a “white-collar” exemption from required overtime pay, employees must meet three tests:
- Salary basis test. The individual’s salary must be fixed and predetermined, and cannot fluctuate with quantity or quality of work.
- Salary level test. The salary must exceed a minimum threshold (currently $23,660 in annual wages or $455 per week, with the transition in December to $47,476 in annual wages or $913 per week).
- Job duties test. Duties must meet the executive, administrative or professional duties tests as defined in the regulations. This is commonly known as the “white-collar” exemption. Certain computer employees, an outside salesforce and highly compensated individuals may also be exempt.
While an increase in the maximum annual earnings level means more employees will be eligible for overtime, the basis test is unchanged. The job duties test remains the most subjective of the three. It is also the most scrutinized when interpreting terminology significant to classifying whether an employee would be exempt under FLSA. Because the law is designed to protect employees, its exemptions are meant to be narrowly defined to prevent employers from (intentionally or unintentionally) misclassifying employees in such a way that they avoid overtime pay.
In the past, “white-collar” employees (executives, administrators, professionals and others) have often been exempt from receiving overtime pay due to their job duties. In a small business, these individuals might include managers, retail managers, internal accounting personnel and support/administrative functions such as finance, marketing and human resources. Some professional employees, including doctors, lawyers and teachers, will not be impacted by salary-level requirements that generally apply to other white-collar employees. To qualify for the professional exemption as a teacher, the employee must be employed in an "educational establishment" and have a primary duty of teaching.
Small organizations may have only a handful of employees affected by the new rules. The DOL estimates that 4.2 million exempt employees in all industries will become non-exempt, and as much as $1.2 billion will be paid to employees either as overtime or increases in wages to meet the salary threshold.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for employers to comply with these new regulations. Every employer will have different needs, but among the options are:
- Maintaining current salary levels and paying overtime.
- Bumping salaries over the threshold to prevent paying overtime.
- Changing staffing levels to reduce overtime needs.
Preparing for change
If you get started well ahead of the December 1st implementation date, you should have time to thoroughly analyze your options, open a dialogue with employees, and develop new policies and processes. Consider these actions before, during and after the transition:
- Review all currently exempt positions to see if any will be impacted.
- Create or reinforce a well-defined workweek, pay cycles and policies.
- Begin requiring all employees to complete time sheets, even if they are not eligible for overtime.
- Ensure that written job descriptions and duties reflect the duties tests, and make plans to review duties annually.
- Establish training for employees on recordkeeping and time recording.
- Analyze all labor-cost implications.
- Study the potential costs of transitioning some employee benefits from exempt to non-exempt employees.
- Examine the unintended consequences of change, such as increasing salaries and adding duties, or eliminating part-time positions.
- Consider moving your compensation review and adjustment period from January to November or early December this year.
- Conduct individual and group meetings to review what will be changing, the reasons for the change and the impact.
- Open lines of communication with employees: be upfront, open and honest about the reasons for change and how it impacts them personally.
Employers should not automatically assume that payroll costs will skyrocket in the next year as new overtime guidelines are implemented. A number of strategies are available to reduce the financial burden. You need to work toward a path that includes meeting your DOL requirements and paying your employees what they are worth. iBi
Kimberly Orsolits, Human Resources Consultant, Outsourcing, can be reached at kim.orsolits@CLAconnect.com or (407) 802-1263. Matt Smutz, Principal, CPA, Outsourcing, can be reached at matt.smutz@CLAconnect.com or (309) 495-8782. CliftonLarsonAllen cannot and does not provide legal advice. It is important that you consult with qualified labor counsel before adopting any new HR policies.