“The U.S. Labor Department told a federal appeals court Friday that while it intends to revise the Obama-era rule that made millions of workers eligible for overtime pay the agency will continue to defend its authority to create and enforce such a regulation.” One hopes the walkback will be complete or nearly so, since overtime mandates for midlevel employees were one of Obama’s most destructive policy initiatives. Better yet would be for the federal government to beat a retreat from this 1930s-era body of law entirely. [Erin Mulvaney, NLJ; AP/L.A. Times; earlier here and here]
“Well, they did it. The Obama Administration has proposed a new rule that everyone has to punch a time clock unless they are paid at least $921 a week. … This is a law written by salaried professionals telling younger and lower-paid workers that they have no right to be … salaried professionals.” [Coyote, who also has a few words on the arbitrariness of the Department of Labor’s threshold calculations, and on how DoL implicitly realizes that employers will adjust payroll practice to employees’ detriment, the biggest losers being upwardly mobile strivers.] Short-term benefits for some workers will melt away as employers redesign jobs to avoid overtime, reduce base pay, or lay off staff [Jeffrey Miron, Cato] “Unfortunately, it appears that the White House has given up on economic growth” [Douglas Holtz-Eakin] More: Iain Murray, National Review; Marianne Levine, Politico; W$J; Doug Hass/Wage Hour Insights; Detroit News editorial. My two cents earlier here and generally here.
The unilateral measure, which does not require Congressional approval, will raise “from $23,660 to as much as $52,000 the threshold below which workers must be paid overtime.” Don’t expect low-wage workers to benefit: “[B]usinesses offset new overtime costs with lower base wages. One recent study found that workers pay for 80 percent of overtime costs through such base wage cuts.” That doesn’t mean it’s a wash, though: “The change will kill flexible schedules for entry- and mid-level salaried employees.” [James Sherk, Daily Signal] And the measure’s true target, as with so much union-backed labor regulation, is the upwardly mobile job seeker: “Ambitious workers intent on proving their value by taking on extra responsibilities will be severely hobbled in their ability to do so, and instead be reduced to time-clock punchers.” [J.C. Tuccille, Reason]
We covered this truly awful idea at some length last year.
Here comes a more regimented, polarized, lawsuit-ridden workplace with less upward mobility — at least if the President gets his way. I deplore some of the likely effects, unintended or otherwise, in a new Cato post: “Increasingly, Obama’s binge of executive orders and unilateral decrees to bypass Congress is coming to resemble a toddler’s destructive tantrum.” More: Daniel Schwartz, Daniel Fisher. Our wage and hour law category has more than 80 posts.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal statute that imposes the minimum wage along with other intrusions into what ought to be matters of contract between the parties.There is no real constitutional authority for the federal government to dictate the terms of labor contracts. During the New Deal, Congress relied upon the notion that if anything might have any possible effect on interstate commerce, then it’s fair game for federal control. That idea stretches the concept of interstate commerce far beyond its intended meaning.
In March and April, the U.S. Department of Labor issued notices of proposed rulemaking on two of the most hotly contested issues of its predecessor Obama department, overtime for junior managers and the joint-employer rule. Tammy McCutchen:
The DOL proposes to increase the minimum salary for exemption from $455 per week ($23,660 annualized) to $679 per week ($35,308 annualized)…. If adopted, the proposed rule would replace the final rule issued by the DOL on May 19, 2016, but enjoined by the Eastern District of Texas just weeks before its December 1, 2016 effective date. The 2016 final rule would have increased the minimum salary for exemption to $913 per week ($47,476 annualized)
Earlier here and here. In addition, DoL is proposing to clarify what times of compensation and benefits employers must include in the overtime calculations.
Separately, DoL’s proposed rule on joint employment
would replace the January 2016 Administrator’s Interpretation on joint employment, which did not go through the notice-and-comment rulemaking process and was withdrawn in June 2017.
Under the FLSA, companies found to be joint employers are jointly liable for all minimum wage and overtime violations. The statute does not include a definition of joint employment and has left this determination to the courts.
The joint employment issue has become increasingly important since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dramatically expanded the definition during the Obama administration in the Browning Ferris decision, recently partially affirmed but remanded to the NLRB by the D.C. Circuit. The Trump NLRB has undertaken a rulemaking of its own, proposing to narrow the joint employer definition under the National Labor Relations Act, so as to restore the law, essentially, as it stood prior to Browning Ferris. The NLRB is currently poring over thousands of comments filed for and against its proposed rule. A final joint employer rule is expected from that agency by year end.
The joint employment concept is important because, among other matters, it determines when one employer (typically larger) can be held liable for the actions of another, such as a contractor or franchisee. The proposal would adopt a definition of joint employer originating in a 1983 Ninth Circuit decision in Bonnette v. California Health and Welfare Agency, which does not sweep as broadly as the later definition adopted by the NLRB in Browning-Ferris and by the Obama administration. More: McCutchen podcast on all three issues.
At Workforce.com, attorney/blogger Jon Hyman, often linked in this space, follows up on the Mercatus Center report on the high cost of the Obama administration edict ordering overtime for mid-level salaried workers. He writes:
I’d like to focus on one such unintended consequence — lack of workplace flexibility.
From the report:
If employers are forced to record and measure employee hours, they will shift away from allowing employees to telecommute because the cost of monitoring hours for telecommuting is significantly higher, although not impossible given new technologies. The proposed regulation would create a scenario whereby telecommuters have an incentive to work overtime because they would get paid 1.5 times the regular rate and, knowing this, employers have an incentive to make sure employees do not work overtime. A mechanism will be needed by which the employer is able to track the work hours of employees such that the employer knows when an employee is working overtime. Showing up at work and clocking in is the mechanism by which employers normally track employees’ hours. With telecommuting, it is difficult for an employer to track the number of hours worked. As a result, employers may require telecommuters to start physically showing up for work so that they to track and monitor the number of hours these employees work.
Employees like being exempt. They like the flexibility of not having to track their hours. They like the flexibility that comes with a salary that compensates an employee for all hours worked in week, whether it’s 30 hours this week, or 65 hours next week, or 47 hours the week after. The new regulations will strip 5 million employees of this flexibility and convert them to time trackers. Does this change benefit employees? I bet if you polled the 5 million, you’d find that most would prefer to keep their flexibility instead of trading it in for whatever minimal additional compensation (if any) they expect to recover from a switch to non-exempt.
Well, isn’t this a shame:
Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16 that House “Democratic chiefs of staff are freaking out” about finding room in their budget for overtime wages.
It’s not clear whether the Obama administration’s forthcoming edict on overtime will apply to legislative staffers, but House Democratic leadership decided it would be prudent for their members to at least gesture toward the spirit of the controversial rule by preparing for compliance. [BNA Daily Labor Report] Now “the rule is creating administrative headaches” and more:
“We don’t have a set-hour kind of situation here; some kids work 12, 14, 16 hours a day, weekends, and I feel terrible that I cannot afford to give raises to the staff,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 11.
With $320,000 slashed from members’ representational allowances (MRAs) over the past four years, “I don’t see how we could pay overtime” for the “17 or 18 people that each of us is allowed to have—that’s problematic for me,” added Hastings, a senior member of the House Rules Committee.
Some members fear that an overtime mandate will result in having to send staffers home at 5 p.m., leaving phones unanswered and impairing constituent service. “Most members are of the sentiment that it’s impractical to be paying overtime,” said former Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, now a lobbyist, who suggests that members choose to close one of their district offices or reduce constituent correspondence to adjust to a smaller staff number.
In the bonbon box of schadenfreude, this is one of the ones I would save to eat last.
The damage from one of President Obama’s worst unilateral edicts, overtime for junior managers and other workers with middling salaries, is going to radiate through every sector of the productive economy. That includes academia: “The University of California school system, for instance, faces a $39 million-a-year tab for raises to avoid paying overtime to thousands of postdoctoral scholars, librarians and specialists. The University of Iowa says it would limit work hours of staff. And a state university in Missouri could cut some employee benefits.” [WSJ]
How reliable are projections from the Department of Labor about the cost of the President’s ambitious new extension of overtime entitlements to salaried workers earning $23,660-$50,440? The “administration refuses to allow others to check its math. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the state agency that I lead, in August requested the specific data and methodology the Labor Department used to calculate its estimates. Our request was denied.” So the department went ahead with its own analysis. “The rule will supposedly cost $2 billion the first year. Our math shows $1.7 billion for Florida alone.” [Jesse Panuccio, WSJ, earlier here, here, here, here, and here]