Regulatory Watch

A Salary Threshold Working Over Time

The U.S. government may raise the minimum salary threshold on paying overtime to white collar workers.
By: | December 14, 2016 • 4 min read

New U.S. Department of Labor rules may require employers to pay overtime to salaried workers earning less than $47,476 a year, effectively doubling the current overtime annual salary threshold of $23,660.

A group of 21 states and more than 50 business groups that filed suit against the DOL won a preliminary injunction in late November that halted the rule from taking effect on Dec. 1. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency and his promise to roll back regulations add more uncertainty as to whether this new rule will be revoked or revised in 2017.

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The Department of Labor estimates as many as 4.2 million U.S. workers would be affected by the change. By some estimates, as many as 70 percent of companies are in violation of the rules.

It’s important to conduct an audit of your workforce and bring all employees to compliance if they are not already, said Catherine K. Ruckelshaus, general counsel at the National Employment Law Project.

With many existing state rules already much higher than the federal threshold, companies often find they are already in compliance, which is much more cost-effective than defending a wage and hour claim.

Chris Williams, employment practices liability product manager, Travelers

Chris Williams, employment practices liability product manager, Travelers

But with so many companies still at risk of being noncompliant, they must review for problems, said Chris Williams, an employment practices liability product manager at Travelers.

“If you haven’t fixed it … [and you are sued], you paint yourself in an even worse light in a courtroom,” said Lisa Doherty, co-founder and CEO of Business Risk Partners, a specialty insurance underwriter and program administrator.

Wal-Mart Stores was most likely aiming for broad-based compliance ahead of the deadline when it recently raised all salaries for its entry-level managers to just above the threshold at $48,500 from $45,000 annually, according to Reuters.

A Change Long Overdue

The FLSA was enacted in 1938 and established the 40-hour work week salary threshold, which entitled workers to time-and-a-half their regular hourly wage for any overtime.

White collar workers making more than the threshold and meeting certain “duties tests” were exempt from receiving overtime pay if they worked more than 40 hours in a week. The current threshold of $455 a week or $23,660 annually, has been in place since 2004.

“A mid-level manager with a labor budget and no compliance training regarding overtime rules is a loaded weapon you have pointed at the business because you have given that manager an incentive with no context.” — Noel P. Tripp, principal, Jackson Lewis P.C.

The currently postponed new rule more than doubles the minimum to $913 per week, or $47,476 annually, and will automatically increase every three years based on wage growth Employers with exempt salaried workers within this range generally face three options.

One: Raise the annual pay to above $47,476 to maintain the exempt status. This option works best for employees paid a salary close to the new level, such as those Wal-Mart managers.

Two: Reclassify salaried employees as hourly and pay time and a half when they exceed 40 hours in a week. This approach works best when there are only occasional spikes that require overtime for which employers can plan for and budget.

Three: Strictly limit employees’ time to 40 hours and hire additional workers. That’s not always a welcome path if it triggers a new record-keeping system to track hours. It can be difficult to get workers to change their behavior to start recording when they arrive at work and leave.

Establishing a 40-hour week was meant to encourage employers to hire more people rather than pay overtime, but often adding staff is not in the labor budget.

“A mid-level manager with a labor budget and no compliance training regarding overtime rules is a loaded weapon you have pointed at the business because you have given that manager an incentive with no context,” said Noel P. Tripp, a principal at Jackson Lewis P.C., who represents employers in wage and hour cases.

What’s at Stake? Legal Cases Are Growing

There were 8,000 FSLA wage and hour claims filed last year, making it the single fastest growing type of employment litigation, Doherty said.

One reason for that claims volume is that there are a variety of ways a company can violate the rules.

There’s straight-out failure to pay overtime when a worker is entitled to it. There’s “donning and doffing” claims when an employer doesn’t include the time to put on protective gear as part of the work day. DuPont and Tyson were both targets of class action lawsuits citing donning and doffing.

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“It has been the law for many decades; if you don’t keep track of it there’s a presumption against you,” said attorney Thomas More Marrone, who is representing employees against DuPont.

Some newly emerging FLSA cases involve the time employees spend on computers or checking email at home, Williams said. Often, he said, it’s not until a claim is filed that employers — who bear the burden of proof in most cases — realize they haven’t maintained the appropriate records to defend the business.

It’s important that companies talk to a broker about coverage for some of that exposure, Williams said.

A coverage endorsement attached to employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) policy forms may cover the cost of defending claims alleging that an employer failed to pay overtime to a nonexempt employee. &

Juliann Walsh is a former staff writer at Risk & Insurance. Comments or questions about this article can be addressed to [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]