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The wait is over. Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) released its proposed rule that would amend the regulations governing the exempt status of executive, administrative and professional employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), also known as the “white collar” exemptions.

The holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on the prior year and plan for the upcoming one.  In 2018, a spotlight was directed at sexual harassment issues, leading to significant upcoming changes in some states’ employment laws.  Likewise, mandatory paid sick leave became a major 2018 issue that has led to changes for many employers.

Topics: Minimum Wage

On Friday, December 14, 2018, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation revising the Earned Sick Time Act, which the Michigan legislature adopted in response to a ballot initiative. Governor Snyder also signed a bill softening planned increases to the state’s minimum wage. We previously reported on the original versions of these bills here.

Once again, the California Supreme Court has held that California’s wage and hours laws do not always follow well-established rules applicable to claims under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (the FLSA).  More specifically, on July 26, 2018, in Troester v. Starbucks Corp., the California Supreme Court rejected Starbucks’ argument that the FLSA’s de minimis exception to compensable working time applied to wage claims brought under California wage and hour laws.  Instead, the court ruled that California employees must be paid for every minute (and possibly every second) of working time.

On May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the use of class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements, which is one of the few options employers have to limit costly “bet the business” class actions.  Prior to this decision, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and a few appellate courts had held that these waivers were invalid because they conflicted with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the federal law governing collective bargaining and other labor union issues. In its recent decision, Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, the high court rejected that conclusion and reinstated the practice of using class action waivers nationwide.  In light of this ruling, employers should consider revising their policies or adopting new arbitration agreements.

The Department of Labor (DOL) surprised many observers by announcing it would issue a new proposed rule on calculating the “regular rate of pay” for determining overtime wages in its recently issued 2018 regulatory agenda. The DOL has only stated that it intends to “clarify, update, and define regular rate requirements” for the Fair Labor Standards Act, and that the proposed rule will be issued in September 2018.

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued its first set of opinion letters since 2010, when the Obama administration suspended the practice of issuing such guidance. The return of opinion letters is welcome news for employers. Among other things, obtaining the DOL’s informal opinion on a wage and hour compliance question may help avoid costly disputes and, in certain circumstances, provide affirmative defenses to liability in the event of litigation.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling concluding that service advisors at car dealerships are exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In doing so, the Court abandoned 70 years of precedent, construing FLSA exemptions fairly rather than under the historic narrow standard. This change may signal a more level playing field for employers when courts interpret FLSA exemptions.

On March 5, 2018, the Supreme Court of California declined to follow federal precedent and ruled that employers must follow a more generous state formula for calculating overtime pay where employees receive flat sum bonuses. In Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp., the Court held that the “regular rate of pay” for any flat sum bonus must be calculated by dividing the total amount of the flat sum bonus by the number of non-overtime hours worked by the employee during the pay period applicable to the bonus. The calculated “regular rate of pay” is then multiplied by 1.5 or 2 (depending on the applicable overtime rate under California law) and the total number of overtime hours worked during the applicable pay period to get the total amount of overtime pay attributable to the bonus.

In the wake of multiple federal courts rejecting its previous guidance, the Department of Labor (DOL) has revised its guidelines for determining when an intern may qualify as an “employee” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA.) Going forward, the DOL will follow the “primary beneficiary” test–a standard endorsed by several appellate courts. This shift may reduce costly investigations and lawsuits, because the “primary beneficiary” factors are viewed as providing more flexibility in structuring unpaid internship programs.

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