Posts By coff5408

Comcast v. NAAAM: Law of Causation in 1981 Claims

In Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, No. 18-1171, __ U.S. __ (March 23, 2020), the Supreme Court held that race-discrimination claims brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1886, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, are subject to a but-for standard of causation.

Background

The Civil Rights Act of 1886, now codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1981, provides that “[a]ll persons … shall have the same right … to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens[.]” The law has been interpreted as, inter alia, prohibiting discrimination because of race in employment and other kinds of contractual relationships.

A similar discrimination law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, specifically provides for a “motivating factor” causation standard — that is, an employee can prevail on a Title VII race discrimination claim by proving that her race was a “motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated that practice.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m).

The statutory language of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, however, does not specify the causation standard for proving race discrimination under § 1981.

The causation standard under § 1981 is important for employees because this law is, in some ways, more powerful than Title VII. For example, while Title VII race discrimination claims are subject to caps on compensatory and punitive damages, see 42 U.S.C. § 1981a, race discrimination claims under § 1981 are not subject to damages caps.

Facts

An African-American-owned television-network operator (ESN) sought to have Comcast carry its channels. Comcast refused, citing lack of programming demand and various other reasons. ESN sued Comcast for race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §1981, alleging that Comcast’s refusal to carry ESN’s channels violated the law, which guarantees “[a]ll persons . . . the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

The District Court dismissed ESN’s complaint for failing plausibly to show that, “but for” racial animus, Comcast would have contracted with ESN. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that ESN needed only to plead facts plausibly showing that race played “some role” in Comcast’s decisionmaking process. Comcast appealed.

The Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, holding that a § 1981 plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the plaintiff’s race was a “but-for” cause of its injury.

In so holding, the Court observed that a tort plaintiff typically must prove but-for causation — meaning that the plaintiff’s injury would not have happened in the absence of the offending conduct (in this context, racial animus). See University of Tex. Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U. S. 338, 347 (2013) (discussing tort principles and holding that but-for causation applied to Title VII retaliation claims).

ESN argued that § 1981 creates an exception to this general principle, such that a § 1981 plaintiff only bears the burden of showing that race was a “motivating factor” in the defendant’s challenged decision. No. 18-1171 at 3-12. The Court rejected this argument.

First, the court determined that “several clues, taken collectively,” made clear that a but-for causation standard applied to § 1981. For instance, the Court noted that the statute’s text suggested but-for causation: An ordinary English speaker would not say that a plaintiff did not enjoy the “same right” to make contracts “as is enjoyed by white citizens” if race was not a but-for cause affecting the plaintiff’s ability to contract. Id. at 4-8.

The Court went on to discuss the larger structure and history of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 as providing further clues in support of a but-for causation standard. For example, when § 1981 was first enacted, it did not provide a private enforcement mechanism for violations. That right was “judicially created,” decades later, in Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 421 U. S. 454, 459 (1975). The Court observed that during the era of Johnson v. Railway Express, the Court usually insisted that the legal elements of “implied” causes of action be at least as demanding as those found in analogous statutory causes of action.

The Court found this rule useful, as a neighboring section of the 1866 Act uses the terms “on account of” and “by reason of,” and these phrases are often held to indicate but-for causation. Another provision provides that in cases not provided for by the 1866 Act, the common law shall govern. The Court noted that back in 1866, the common law usually treated a showing of but-for causation as a prerequisite to a tort suit. The Court further cited some of its own precedents as confirming its assessment that the statute’s language and history called for but-for causation. See, e.g.Johnson, 421 U.S., at 459–460Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, 78–79 (1917)No. 18-1171 at 4-8.

Second, the Court rejected ESN’s argument that the “motivating factor” causation test in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m), should also apply to § 1981 cases. The Court observed that it had already rejected attempts to extend Title VII’s “motivating factor” standard to other laws. See, e.g., Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167 (2009) (Age Discrimination in Employment Act). The Court saw no reason to think the motivating factor standard would fit § 1981 claims any better.

Third, the Court further supported its conclusion by discussing the history behind Title VII’s motivating factor standard. The Court emphasized that when the motivating factor test was added to Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Congress also amended § 1981 without mentioning “motivating factors.” No. 18-1171 at 10. The Court therefore found that even if ESN was correct that the 1991 amendments clarified that § 1981 addresses not just contractual “outcomes” but the whole contracting “process,” its claim that a process-oriented right necessarily pairs with a motivating factor causal standard was mistaken. No. 18-1171 at 10-11.

Finally, the Court rejected ESN’s argument that the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), supported the application of a motivating factor standard to § 1981 claims. Whether or not McDonnell Douglas has some useful role in § 1981 cases, the Court observed that case was decided in a context and at a time when but-for causation was the undisputed test, and it does not mention a motivating factor test. No. 18-1171 at 11-12.

Analysis

In short, Comcast v. NAAAM held that race-discrimination claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 are subject to a but-for standard of causation. Although but-for causation does not require a plaintiff to prove racial discrimination was the only cause of an injury, the but-for standard is a somewhat higher standard of causation than the “motivating factor” standard permitted by Title VII. To show but-for causation in the employment context, a § 1981 plaintiff must show that the employment action at issue would not have occurred in the absence of racial discrimination.

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com.

This blog was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.com.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: COVID-19-Related Paid Employee Leave Rights

Enacted on March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires small and medium-sized employers to provide employees with paid emergency sick leave and/or paid expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FFCRA also provides that covered employers will be reimbursed for complying with these requirements. The provisions will remain in effect through December 31, 2020.

This post will focus on the basic provisions of the FFCRA as they relate to employee rights to COVID-19-related emergency paid sick leave (under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, which is part of FFCRA) and expanded family and medical leave (under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, an amendment to the FMLA, and also part of the FFCRA). The Department of Labor is also an excellent resource for information about the FFCRA as it relates to both employee paid leave rights and employer paid leave requirements. Here are FFCRA information posters (non-federal employees and federal employees) prepared by DOL for employers to disseminate to employees.

Covered Employers

The FFCRA’s emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions apply to private employers with fewer than 500 employees. The DOL has indicated that certain provisions may not apply to certain employers with fewer than 50 employees. For example, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or child care unavailability if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.

The provisions also apply to certain public employers. Most federal government employees are covered by Title II of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Because the FFCRA did not amend Title II of the FMLA, most federal employees are not covered by the FFCRA’s expanded family and medical leave provisions. However, federal employees covered by Title II of the FMLA are covered by the FFCRA’s emergency paid sick leave provisions.

Eligible Employees

As explained below, all employees of covered employers are eligible for two weeks of emergency paid sick time for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Employees employed for at least 30 days are eligible for up to an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave to care for a child under certain circumstances related to COVID-19. The FFCRA also provides some special rules for health care providers and emergency responders. In particular, the law allows employers of health care providers or emergency responders to elect to exclude those employees from eligibility for the leave provided under the FFCRA.

Summary of Emergency Paid Sick Leave Rights

With respect to emergency paid sick leave, the FFCRA generally provides that employees of covered employers are eligible to receive:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s full regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because she or he is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), or to care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor.

In other words, if an employee becomes quarantined or sick, the employee can receive paid sick leave at her or his full regular rate. If the employee’s child’s school closes because of the pandemic and the employee must take leave to care for the child, the employee can receive paid sick leave at two thirds his or her regular pay rate.

Qualifying Reasons for Emergency Paid Sick Leave

Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for emergency paid sick leave if the employee is unable to work or telework due to a need for leave because the employee:

  1. is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
  3. is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
  5. is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19; or
  6. is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.

Duration of Emergency Paid Sick Leave

Under the FFCRA’s emergency paid sick leave provisions, a full-time employee is eligible for two weeks (80 hours) of leave, and a part-time employee is eligible for the number of hours of leave that the employee works on average over a two-week period.

Calculation of Pay During Emergency Paid Sick Leave

The calculation of pay during emergency paid sick leave depends on the reason for the leave. If the employee requires leave because she or he

  1. is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19,
  2. has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19, or
  3. is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis,

the employee is entitled to pay at either her or his full regular rate or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher. This emergency paid leave is capped at a maximum of $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period).

The rate of emergency paid sick leave is lower if the employee requires leave to care for someone else. If the employee requires leave because she or he

  1. is caring for an individual subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine order or who has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19,
  2. is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19, or
  3. is experiencing any other “substantially-similar condition” specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury,

the employee is entitled to pay at two thirds her or his regular rate or two thirds the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher. This emergency paid leave is capped at a maximum of $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period).

Paid sick leave under the FFCRA does not carry over from one year to the next. Employees are not entitled to reimbursement for unused leave upon termination, resignation, retirement, or other separation from employment.

Summary of Paid Expanded Family and Medical Leave Rights

In addition, the FFCRA generally provides that employees who have been employed by covered employers for at least 30 days are eligible to receive:

  • Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

In short, if the employee’s child’s school or daycare closes because of the pandemic and the employee must take leave to care for the child, the employee is eligible for up to 10 weeks of paid “expanded” FMLA leave at two thirds her or his regular pay rate.

Qualifying Reasons for Paid Expanded Family and Medical Leave

Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for expanded family and medical leave only if the employee requires leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19.

Duration of Paid Expanded Family and Medical Leave

In this situation — where an employee requires leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19 — the duration of leave again depends on whether the employee is full-time or part-time. The difference turns on hours typically worked per week.

A full-time employee is eligible for up to a total of 12 weeks of leave (two weeks of emergency paid sick leave, followed by up to 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave) at 40 hours a week. A part-time employee is eligible for leave for the number of hours that the employee is normally scheduled to work over that same period.

Calculation of Pay During Paid Expanded Family and Medical Leave

In the expanded family and medical leave scenario — where an employee requires leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19 — employees taking leave are entitled to pay at two thirds their regular rate or two thirds the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher.

However, this paid leave is capped at a maximum of $200 per day and $12,000 in the aggregate (over a 12-week period). An employee has the option to substitute any accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave for the first two weeks of partial paid leave under this part of the law.

Notice of Need for Leave

As with the FMLA, where an employee’s need for leave under the FFCRA is foreseeable, the employee should provide notice to the employer as soon as is practicable. After the first workday of paid sick time, an employer may require employees to follow reasonable notice procedures in order to continue receiving paid sick time.

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com.

This blog was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.net.

Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk: Rule 68 and Collective Actions

In Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U.S. 66 (2013), the Supreme Court held that a putative Fair Labor Standards Act collective action brought by one employee on behalf of others was no longer justiciable when, as conceded by the employee, her individual claim became moot before others joined the case.

Facts

Symzcyk worked for Genesis Healthcare as a registered nurse. In 2009, Symczyk brought a putative collective action under the FLSA on behalf of herself and “other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). She alleged Genesis violated the FLSA by automatically deducting 30 minutes of time worked per shift for meal breaks for certain employees, even when the employees performed compensable work during those breaks. Symcyzk, who remained the sole plaintiff throughout the case, sought statutory damages for the alleged violations.

After Symczyk filed suit, but before any other employees joined the suit, the employer sent Symczyk an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68, which Symczyk ignored. The offer had proposed to pay all of her statutory damages, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. The District Court, finding that no one else had joined the case, and that the Rule 68 offer fully satisfied Symczyk’s claim, concluded that Symczyk’s suit was moot. The court therefore dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

The Third Circuit reversed, holding that while Symczyk’s individual claim was moot, the collective action on behalf of other similar employees was not. The Third Circuit reasoned that allowing employers to use calculated Rule 68 offers to “pick off” named plaintiff-employees before certification would frustrate the goals of collective actions. The court therefore remanded the case to the trial court, with instructions to allow Symczyk to seek conditional certification of the collective action and move forward with the case on behalf of other employees who might join. See 569 U.S. at 69-71.

The Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court reversed. The Court held that because Symczyk had no “personal interest” in representing other putative, unnamed employees, nor any other kind of continuing interest that would render her suit not moot, the trial court properly determined it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the case.

At the outset, the Court declined to decide whether an unaccepted Rule 68 offer that fully satisfies a plaintiff’s individual claim is sufficient to render that claim moot. Symczyk, however, had conceded this point with respect to her claim and did not argue it on appeal. The Court therefore assumed, without deciding, that the employer’s offer to Symczyk mooted her individual claim. 569 U.S. at 72-73.

The Court then determined that “well-settled mootness principles” controlled the outcome of the case. Once Symczyk’s individual claim became moot, the Court determined that the suit became moot because she had no personal interest in representing others in the action. The Court rejected Symczyk’s contrary arguments because they relied on cases that arose in the context of Rule 23 class actions. The Court found those case inapposite, both because Rule 23 actions are “fundamentally different” from FLSA collective actions and because the cases were “inapplicable” to the facts in Symczyk’s case. 569 U.S. at 73-79.

The cases Symczyk rallied behind were Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975) and United States Parole Comm’n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388 (1980). Symczyk argued these cases meant she could seek certification of an FLSA collective action after her individual claim became moot. The Court determined Sosna and Geraghty did not support her position. In short, Sosna held that a class action is not rendered moot when the named plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot after the class has been duly certified. Geraghty extended those principles to denials of class certification motions, and further provided that, where a putative class action would have acquired independent legal status but for the district court’s erroneous denial of class certification, a corrected ruling on appeal “relates back” to the time of the erroneous denial. See 445 U.S. at 404 and n. 11.

At first glance, these cases seemed like they supported Symczyk’s position. The Court observed, however, that Geraghty’s holding was explicitly limited to cases in which the named plaintiff’s claim remains live at the time the district court denies class certification. See 445 U.S. at 407 and n. 11. Symczyk, by contrast, had not yet moved for “conditional certification” when her claim became moot. Nor had the District Court anticipatorily ruled on any such request. Symczyk therefore had no certification decision to which her claim could have related back. More importantly, the Court emphasized that essential to Sosna and Geraghty was the fact that a putative class acquires an “independent legal status” once it is certified under Rule 23. By contrast, under the FLSA, “conditional certification” does not produce a class with an independent legal status, or join additional parties to the action. 569 U.S. at 73-75.

Second, the Court addressed a line of cases, like County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44, 52 (1991), holding that an “inherently transitory” class-action claim is not necessarily moot upon the termination of the named plaintiff’s claim. The Court found these cases inapplicable. Symczyk argued that an employer’s use of Rule 68 offers to “pick off” a named plaintiff before the collective-action process is complete renders the action “inherently transitory.” But the Court observed the “inherently transitory” rationale was developed to address circumstances in which the defendant’s challenged conduct was effectively unreviewable because no plaintiff possessed a personal stake in the suit long enough for litigation to run its course. For this reason, the Court observed, the McLaughlin line of cases focused on the fleeting nature of the challenged conduct giving rise to the claim, not on the defendant’s litigation strategy. Unlike a claim for injunctive relief, a damages claim (like the FLSA claims at issue in Smyczk’s case) cannot evade review — the damage has been done, and can be measured and compensated. The Court further pointed out that an offer of full settlement cannot insulate such a claim from review. While dismissing Symzcyk’s case before certification would foreclose the putative other plaintiff-employees of Genesis from vindicating their rights in Symzcyk’s suit, those employees would remain free to do so in their own lawsuits. 569 U.S. at 75-77.

Finally, the Court addressed its decision in Deposit Guaranty Nat. Bank v. Roper, 445 U.S. 326 (1980), which Symczyk cited for her argument that the purposes served by the FLSA’s collective-action provisions would be frustrated by defendants’ use of Rule 68 to “pick off” named plaintiffs before the collective-action process has run its course. The Court found Roper did not support this argument. In Roper, the named plaintiffs’ individual claims became moot after the District Court denied their Rule 23 class certification motion and entered judgment in their favor based on defendant’s Rule 68 offer. The Roper Court held that the named plaintiffs could appeal the denial of certification because they possessed an ongoing, personal economic stake in the substantive controversy — namely, to shift a portion of attorney’s fees and expenses to successful class litigants. Symczyk, by contrast, conceded that her employer’s offer provided complete relief, and she asserted no continuing economic interest in shifting attorney’s fees and costs. Moreover, the Roper holding was tied to the unique significance of Rule 23 class certification decisions, distinguishing it from the FLSA collective action context. 569 U.S. at 77-79.

Analysis

In summary, Genesis held that a putative FLSA collective action brought by single employee was no longer justiciable when, as conceded by the employee, her individual claim became moot by an offer of judgment providing complete relief and no other employees had joined the case. The Court, however, declined to decide whether an unaccepted offer of judgment could render a plaintiff’s claim moot. 

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com. 

This blog was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.com.

FLSA Administrative Employee Exemption: Discretion and Independent Judgment

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires covered employers to pay minimum wages and overtime compensation to certain categories of employees. However, the law contains several exceptions or “exemptions” from these requirements, most of which turn on a combination of the employees’ pay and the nature of employees’ job duties. For example, Section 13(a)(1) of the FLSA, a.k.a. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1), provides an “exemption” from both minimum wage and overtime pay for certain categories of so-called “white collar” employees — namely, employees working as bona fide executive, administrative, professional, or outside sales employees. Section 13(a)(1) and Section 13(a)(17) also exempt certain categories of computer employees. 

To qualify for a white collar exemption, employees must be paid on a salary basis at not less than $684 per week (as of January 1, 2020) and have job duties that satisfy certain requirements. Importantly, job titles do not determine whether an employee is exempt from the FLSA. For an employee to be exempt, her actual real-life job duties and salary must meet all the requirements of the FLSA and the Department of Labor’s implementing regulations.

This post will focus on the exemption for administrative employees. The Department of Labor is also an excellent resource for information about the administrative employee exemption. The DOL’s implementing regulations with respect to the administrative employee exemption are generally located at 29 CFR § 541.200-204

Administrative Employee Criteria

To qualify for the administrative employee exemption (and therefore, not be entitled to receive overtime pay under the FLSA), an employee must meet all of the following requirements:

  1. The employee must be compensated on a “salary basis” (as defined in 29 CFR § 541.602) or “fee basis” (as defined in 29 CFR § 541.605) at a rate not less than $684 per week (lower amounts apply for non-federal employees in U.S. territories);
  2. The employee’s “primary duty” must be the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers; 
  3. The employee’s primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. 

29 CFR § 541.200.

Definition of “Primary Duty”

As used in these regulations, “primary duty” means the principal, main, major or most important duty that the employee performs. Determination of an employee’s primary duty must be based on all the facts in a particular case, with the major emphasis on the character of the employee’s job as a whole. Factors to consider when determining an employee’s primary duty include, without limitations, the relative importance of any exempt duties as compared with other types of duties; the amount of time spent performing exempt work; the employee’s relative freedom from direct supervision; and the relationship between the employee’s salary and the wages paid to other employees for the kind of nonexempt work performed by the employee. 29 CFR § 541.700.

Definition of “Directly Related to Management or General Business Operations” 

To meet the “directly related to management or general business operations” requirement, an employee must perform work directly related to assisting with the running or servicing of the business. This is different from, for example, working on a manufacturing production line or selling a product in a retail or service establishment. 29 CFR § 541.201(a).

As defined in the DOL regulations, work “directly related to management or general business operations” includes, but is not limited to, work in functional areas such as tax; finance; accounting; budgeting; auditing; insurance; quality control; purchasing; procurement; advertising; marketing; research; safety and health; personnel management; human resources; employee benefits; labor relations; public relations; government relations; computer network, Internet and database administration; legal and regulatory compliance; and similar activities. 29 CFR § 541.201(b)

Work Directly Related to Management or Operations of Customers

It’s worth noting that an employee may qualify for the administrative exemption if her primary duty is performing work directly related to the management or general business operations of the “employer’s customers.” 29 CFR § 541.201(a). This means that an employee who acts as a consultant to her employer’s clients or customers — as tax experts or financial consultants, for example — may qualify for the exemption. 29 CFR § 541.201(c).

Definition of “Discretion and Independent Judgment” 

To qualify for the administrative exemption, an employee’s primary duty must include the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. As defined in the regs, the exercise of “discretion and independent judgment” involves comparing and evaluating possible courses of conduct and acting or making a decision after the various possibilities have been considered. 29 CFR § 541.202(a).

The phrase must be applied to all the facts, and implies that the employee has authority to make an independent choice, free from immediate direction or supervision. 29 CFR § 541.202(b)&(c).

In making the “discretion and independent judgment” determination, the regulations provide examples of many factors to consider, including but not limited to: 

  • whether the employee has authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement management policies or operating practices;
  • whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; 
  • whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree; 
  • whether the employee has authority to commit the employer in matters that have significant financial impact;
  • whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval
  • whether the employee has authority to negotiate and bind the company on significant matters; and
  • other similar factors identified in the regulation. 

29 CFR § 541.202(b).The fact that an employee’s decisions may be revised or reversed after review does not necessarily mean the employee does not exercise discretion and independent judgment. 29 CFR § 541.202(c).

The exercise of discretion and independent judgment must be more than the use of skill in applying well-established techniques, procedures or specific standards described in manuals or other sources. It also “does not include clerical or secretarial work, recording or tabulating data, or performing other mechanical, repetitive, recurrent or routine work.” 29 CFR § 541.202(e).

Definition of “Matters of Significance” 

As used in the regulations, the term “matters of significance” refers to the level of importance or consequence of the work performed. 29 CFR § 541.202(a). An employee does not exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance just because the employer will experience financial losses if the employee fails to perform the job properly. 29 CFR § 541.202(f). For example, a messenger who is entrusted with carrying large sums of money does not exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance even though serious consequences may flow from the employee’s neglect. Id. Similarly, an employee who operates very expensive equipment does not exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance merely because improper performance of the employee’s duties may cause serious financial loss to the employer. Id.

Administrative Employee Examples

The regulations contain many examples and explanations regarding specific categories of employees who typically may or may not qualify for the administrative employee exemption. Those examples and explanations are located at 29 CFR § 541.203.

Educational Establishments

The administrative exemption may also be available to employees who meet the salary basis or fee basis test, or on a salary basis which is “at least equal to the entrance salary for teachers in the same educational establishment,”  and whose primary duty is “performing administrative functions directly related to academic instruction or training in an educational establishment.” 29 CFR § 541.204(a).

The term “educational establishment” means an elementary or secondary school system, an institution of higher education or other educational institution. 29 CFR § 541.204(c).

Academic administrative functions include operations directly in the field of education, and do not include jobs relating to areas outside the educational field. 29 CFR § 541.204(c). Employees engaged in academic administrative functions include: the superintendent or other head of an elementary or secondary school system, and any assistants responsible for administration of such matters as curriculum, quality and methods of instructing, measuring and testing the learning potential and achievement of students, establishing and maintaining academic and grading standards, and other aspects of the teaching program; the principal and any vice-principals responsible for the operation of an elementary or secondary school; department heads in institutions of higher education responsible for the various subject matter departments; academic counselors and other employees with similar responsibilities. 29 CFR § 541.204(c)(1).

These categories of academic employees may qualify for the administrative exemption because having a primary duty of performing administrative functions directly related to academic instruction or training in an educational establishment necessarily involves exercising discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.

Highly Compensated Employees 

Highly compensated employees performing office or non-manual work and paid total annual compensation of $107,432 or more (which, as of January 1, 2020, must include at least $684 per week paid on a salary or fee basis) are exempt from the FLSA if they “customarily and regularly” perform at least one of the duties of an exempt executive, administrative or professional employee. 29 CFR § 541.601.

The term “customarily and regularly” means a frequency that must be “greater than occasional” but which “may be less than constant.” 29 CFR § 541.701. Tasks or work performed “customarily and regularly” includes work normally and recurrently performed every workweek; it does not include isolated or one-time tasks. Id.

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com. 

This blog was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.net.

Falk v. Brennan: Law of Employment and Control

In Falk v. Brennan, 414 U.S. 190 (1973), the Supreme Court held that an entity is an “employer” under the Fair Labor Standards Act when it exercises substantial control over the terms and conditions of the work of the employees at issue.

Background

The Fair Labor Standards Act generally requires a covered “employer” to pay its covered nonexempt employees minimum wages for each hour worked and overtime wages for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek. 29 U.S.C. §§ 206(a) & 207(a). The FLSA defines “employer” as “includ[ing] any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee[.]” 29 U.S.C. § 203(d). With some exceptions, the FLSA generally defines “employee” as “any individual employed by an employer.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1). The FLSA defines “employ” as including “to suffer or permit to work.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(g).

The FLSA also provides that for an employer to be covered under the Act’s dollar-volume “enterprise” coverage provision, the employer must receive “annual gross volume of sales made or business done [] not less than $500,000[.]” 29 U.S.C. § 203(s)(1)(A)(ii).

Facts

D&F operated a property management company in Virginia. It rendered management services for the owners of several apartment complexes. Under its contracts with the apartment owners, D&F agreed to perform, on behalf of each owner and under his “nominal” supervision, “virtually all management functions that are ordinarily required for the proper functioning of an apartment complex.” 414 U.S. at 192. Those functions included advertising the apartments; signing, renewing, and canceling leases; collecting rents; instituting and settling all legal proceedings for eviction, possession of the premises, and unpaid rent; making necessary repairs and alterations; negotiating contracts for essential utilities and other services; purchasing supplies; paying bills; preparing operating budgets for the property owners’ review and approval; submitting periodic reports to the owners; and “hiring and supervising all employees required for the operation and maintenance of the buildings and grounds.” Id. at n4.

As compensation, D&F received a fixed percentage of the gross rents collected from each project. D&F deposited the rents it collected in local bank accounts. From these accounts it paid all expenses incurred in operating and maintaining the buildings. After deducting its compensation, as well as other expenses, D&F periodically transmitted payments to the various apartment owners. If disbursements for any apartment complex exceeded the gross rental receipts, the owner was required to reimburse D&F. 414 U.S. at 192-93. D&F collected about $8 million dollars per year in rents for all the buildings it managed. Id. at n6. However, its gross commissions received on those rentals were less than $500,000 per year. Id. at n10.

The Secretary of Labor filed suit against D&F on behalf of the maintenance workers, alleging that D&F violated the minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping requirements of the FLSA with respect to those workers. Id. Significantly, these employees worked under the supervision of D&F and were paid from the rents received at the apartment complexes where they worked. Under the contracts between the apartment owners and D&F, the maintenance workers were considered to be “employees of the project owners.” Id.

A central question for the Court was whether the maintenance workers were also employees of D&F, such that D&F was responsible for complying with the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping requirements with respect to those workers.

A secondary question was which figure should be considered in determining whether D&F met the $500,000 threshold for enterprise coverage: D&F’s gross rentals collected ($8M annually), or D&F’s gross commissions on those rentals (less than $500,000).

The Court’s Decision

The Court held that in addition to the apartment owners, D&F was also an FLSA “employer” of the maintenance workers — even though the owners and D&F had agreed that the workers were employees only of the owners. The Court reached this decision by interpreting the operative provisions of the FLSA as speaking to the extent of control a potential “employer” exercises over a worker.

First, the Court observed that Section 203(d) of the FLSA defines “employer” as ‘any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.’ 29 U.S.C. § 203(d). It further noted that Section 3(e) defines ‘employee’ to include ‘any individual employed by an employer.’ 29 U.S.C. s 203(e). Significantly, the Court interpreted these two provisions as providing an “expansive[]” definition of “employer” — meaning that whether an entity was an FLSA employer, with the attendant minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping responsibilities, could not be controlled by an agreement between entities that only one of them would be the “employer.”

The Court further indicated that the relevant inquiry, in answering the “employer” question, was whether the potential employer had “substantial control of the terms and conditions of the work” the employees performed. Id. at 195. D&F, for example, appears to have had supervisory powers with respect to the maintenance workers at the buildings it managed. See id. at 193 (“These employees work under the supervision of D&F”). The Court therefore determined that “in view of the expansiveness of [the FLSA’s] definition of ‘employer’ and the extent of D&F’s managerial responsibilities at each of the buildings, which gave it substantial control of the terms and conditions of the work of these employees,” D&F was pursuant to the FLSA an ‘employer’ of the maintenance workers Id.

With respect to the dollar-volume limitation question, the Court observed that D&F “sells” only professional management services, and therefore the gross rentals it collected as part of rendering those services to building owners did not represent sales attributable to D&F. Id. at 197-201. Based on this reasoning, the Court concluded D&F’s commissions were the relevant measure of its gross sales made or business done for purposes of the dollar-volume limitation in Section 203(s)(1). Thus, even though D&F was an “employer” under the the terms of the FLSA, and an “enterprise” under Section 203(r), the FLSA did not apply to D&F because its gross sales were below the Section 203(s)(1) dollar-volume threshold. Id. at 201.

Analysis

In sum, Falk v. Brennan held that an entity is an “employer” under the FLSA when it exercises substantial control over the terms and conditions of the work of employees at issue. This decision later became relevant to the Department of Labor’s development of regulations guiding the analysis of FLSA “joint employment” situations. In those situations, where more than one entity benefits from the work of employees, the extent to which each entity exercises control over the terms and conditions of the workers’ employment is an important consideration in determining the entities’ respective or joint responsibilities under the FLSA. For the DOL’s analysis of its most recent changes to the rule (29 C.F.R. § 791) regarding joint employment, effective March 2020, go here.

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com.

This blog was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.com.

Wage Law for Fire Protection and Law Enforcement Personnel

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires covered employers to pay minimum wages and overtime compensation to certain categories of employees. The rights afforded by the FLSA apply to covered employees of public agencies, including most employees working fire protection or law enforcement jobs for state or local governments. However, the FLSA contains some unique provisions that apply only to fire protection and law enforcement personnel. This post summarizes some of those provisions. The US Department of Labor is also an excellent resource for information about the FLSA rights of state and local government employees.

CHARACTERISTICS OF FIRE PROTECTIONS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL

Under the FLSA, fire protection personnel include firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, rescue workers, ambulance personnel, or hazardous materials workers who: (1) are trained in fire suppression, have the legal authority and responsibility to engage in fire suppression, and are employed by a fire department of a municipality, county, fire district, or state, and (2) are engaged in the prevention, control, and extinguishment of fires or response to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk. 29 U.S.C. § 203(y).

Notably, the FLSA does not place a limit on how much nonexempt work a worker employed in fire protection activities may perform. As long as the employee satisfies the criteria in Section 203(y), she is “employed in fire protection activities” as far as the FLSA is concerned.

Under the FLSA, law enforcement personnel are employees who are (1) empowered by state or local ordinance to enforce laws designed to maintain peace and order, protect life and property, and to prevent and detect crimes; (2) who have the power to arrest; and (3) who have undergone training in law enforcement. 29 C.F.R. § 553.211(a).

Law enforcement personnel may perform some nonexempt work that is not performed as an incident to or in conjunction with their law enforcement activities. But a worker who spends more than 20 percent of the workweek or applicable work period in nonexempt activities is not considered to be an “employee engaged in law enforcement activities” for the purposes of the FLSA. 29 C.F.R. ¶ § 553.212.

Additionally, fire protection and law enforcement employees may at their own option perform special duty work in fire protection and law enforcement for a separate and independent employer without including those wages and hours in regular rate or overtime determinations for the primary public employer. 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1).

COMPENSATORY TIME IN LIEU OF CASH OVERTIME

Like other employees of other public agencies, firefighters and police officers may receive a certain amount of “compensatory time” in lieu of cash overtime wages. Compensatory time is paid time off. Under certain circumstances, the FLSA allows public fire departments and police departments to give nonexempt employees who work overtime hours compensatory time off, instead of cash overtime pay. The amount of compensatory time off the employer gives should correspond to the overtime rate — that is, firefighters and police officers must receive at least one and one-half hours of paid time off for each overtime hour worked. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o). The FLSA further provides that fire departments and police departments, like other public agencies, must allow employees to use their compensatory time with a “reasonable period” of time after they make a request, unless doing so would “unduly disrupt” the operations of the agency. 29 U.S.C. §§ 207(o)(5). Generally, this means fire departments and police departments in normal circumstances should allow employees to use compensatory time on the dates they request.

SPECIAL LIMITS ON ACCRUED COMPENSATORY TIME FOR FIREFIGHTERS AND POLICE

Compensatory time can accumulate, similar to vacation time. Importantly, as with other public employees, if firefighters and police officers do not use their accumulated compensatory time, under certain circumstances the FLSA entitles them to receive cash compensation. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(3)-(4). The FLSA also places special limits, different from the limits for other public employees, on the amount of compensatory time that fire protection and law enforcement personnel may receive in lieu of cash overtime wages. Law enforcement, fire protection, and emergency response personnel and employees engaged in seasonal activities may accrue up to 480 hours of comp time (representing 320 overtime hours worked). 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(3)(A). This is different from other public employees, who may accrue up to 240 hours of compensatory time (representing 160 hours of overtime worked). Once a fire protection or law enforcement employee accrues the maximum amount of unused compensatory time hours — 480 — she must be paid cash overtime wages for all additional overtime hours. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(3)(A).

Significantly, the Supreme Court has held that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not prohibit public employers from compelling employees to use compensatory time. Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (2000).

SPECIAL OVERTIME CALCULATION RULES FOR FIREFIGHTERS AND POLICE

The FLSA provides that covered nonexempt employees in most lines of work are entitled to overtime pay (or compensatory time in lieu of overtime pay) for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a 7-day workweek. That is not necessarily the case for firefighters and police officers. Because the work schedules of firefighters and police officers traditionally differ from a standard 40-hour per seven-day workweek, the FLSA provides some special rules for calculating overtime compensation (or compensatory time) for fire protection and law enforcement personnel.

Specifically, fire departments or police departments may establish a work period ranging from 7 to 28 days in which overtime need be paid only after a specified number of hours in each work period. 29 U.S.C. § 207(k). In the case of a 28-day work period, fire protection employees are entitled to overtime pay (or compensatory time) for hours worked in excess of 212 hours during the period, while law enforcement personnel are entitled to overtime pay (or compensatory time) for hours worked in excess of 171 hours during the period. 29 C.F.R. § 553.230(a)-(b).

In the case of fire protection or law enforcement employees who have a work period of at least 7 but less than 28 consecutive days, overtime compensation is required when the ratio of the number of hours worked to the number of days in the work period exceeds the ratio of 212 (or 171) hours to 28 days. 29 C.F.R. § § 553.20129 C.F.R. § 553.230 (conversion table for ratios). For fire protection personnel, that ratio works out to 7.57 hours per day (rounded); for law enforcement personnel, that ratio works out to 6.11 hours per day (rounded).  29 C.F.R. § 553.230(c).

MAXIMUM HOURS BY WORK PERIOD FOR FIRE PROTECTION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL 

Here is a copy of the maximum hours conversion table, showing the amount of hours fire protection or law enforcement may work during a work period, depending on the length of the work period, above which overtime pay or compensatory time is required:

Work Period (Days) Maximum Hour Standards:
Fire Protection
Maximum Hour Standards:
Law Enforcement
28 212 171
27 204 165
26 197 159
25 189 153
24 182 147
23 174 141
22 167 134
21 159 128
20 151 122
19 144 116
18 136 110
17 129 104
16 121 98
15 114 92
14 106 86
13 98 79
12 91 73
11 83 67
10 76 61
9 68 55
8 61 49
7 53 43

29 C.F.R. § 553.230.

PAYMENT OF ACCRUED COMPENSATORY TIME AT TERMINATION

At the end of a fire protection or law enforcement employee’s employment, she is generally entitled to receive a cash payment for any unused compensatory time. Because rates of pay may vary over the course of employment, the FLSA provides specific instructions for calculating the cash value of unused compensatory time. Specifically, like other public agency employees, at the time of termination, a fire protection or law enforcement employee must be paid the higher of

(A) the average regular rate during her last three years of employment, or

(B) her final regular rate of pay,

for any unused accrued compensatory time remaining when the termination occurs. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(4).

EXEMPTION FOR SMALL FIRE AND POLICE DEPARTMENTS

The FLSA also provides an overtime exemption for very small fire departments and police departments. Specifically, any employee who in any workweek is employed by an agency employing fewer than 5 employees in fire protection or law enforcement may be exempt from overtime. 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(20).

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com.

This blog was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.net.

Christensen v. Harris County: Compelled Use of FLSA Compensatory Time

In Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (2000), the Supreme Court held that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not prohibit public employers from compelling employees to use compensatory time.

Background

The Fair Labor Standards Act allows public employers (including states and their political subdivisions) to compensate employees for overtime work by granting them compensatory time instead of paying them a cash overtime wage. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o). Compensatory time is paid time off. To comply with this part of the FLSA, the public employer must provide the compensatory time at a rate not less than one and one-half hours for each hour of overtime worked. Id. Compensatory time can accumulate, like vacation time. Importantly, if employees do not use their accumulated compensatory time, under certain circumstances the FLSA requires the public employer to pay the employees cash compensation. 29 U.S.C. §§ 207(o)(3)-(4).

Facts

Employees in Harris County accumulated a great volume of unused compensatory time. This caused Harris County to worry that a budget crisis would result if it had to pay its employees for their accrued unused compensatory time. In an effort to avoid that situation, the county adopted a policy requiring its employees to schedule time off. The county’s reasoning was that requiring time off would reduce the amount of accrued compensatory time among its workers, thereby reducing the likelihood of a budget crisis from having to pay for unused compensatory time.

Ed Christensen was a Harris County deputy sheriff. He and a group of fellow deputy sheriffs sued the county, claiming the policy of requiring employees to use their compensatory time violated the FLSA. Christensen argued that the FLSA does not permit an employer to compel an employee to use compensatory time in the absence of an agreement allowing the employer to do so. The District Court ruled for Christensen and entered a declaratory judgment that the county’s policy violated the FLSA. The Fifth Circuit reversed. It held that the FLSA did not address the issue of compelling the use of compensatory time and therefore did not prohibit the county from implementing its policy.

The Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that neither the text of the FLSA nor its implementing regulations prohibits a public employer from compelling its employees to use their compensatory time.

First, the Court rejected Christensen’s argument that § 207(o)(5) of the FLSA implicitly prohibits compelled use of compensatory time in the absence of an agreement. That section provides that an employer must grant an employee’s request to use her compensatory time unless doing so would unduly disrupt the employer’s operations. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(5). Citing Raleigh & Gaston R. Co. v. Reid, 13 Wall. 269, 270 (1872) for the proposition that when a statute limits a thing to be done in a particular mode, it implicitly disallows any other mode, Christensen argued that because § 207(o)(5) allowed only an employee to require the use of compensatory time, that section implicitly prohibited an employer from requiring the use of compensatory time. Id. at 583-84. The Court disagreed with that conclusion. Instead, it found that the only “negative inference” to be drawn from § 207(o)(5) was that an employer may not deny a request for any reason other than that provided in § 207(o)(5). Id. Thus, the section did not prohibit employers from compelling the use of compensatory time.

The Court went on to explain that the purpose of § 207(o)(5) was to ensure that an employee receive “some timely benefit for overtime work.” Id. at 584. The FLSA’s nearby provisions reflect a similar concern. For example, § 207(o)(3)(A) provides that workers may not accrue more than 240 or 480 hours of compensatory time, depending upon the nature of the job. This provision “helps guarantee that employees only accrue amounts of compensatory time that they can reasonably use.” Christensen at 584. Similarly, the Court observed that § 207(o)(2)(B) conditions an employer’s ability to provide compensatory time (in lieu of paying cash overtime wages) upon the employee not accruing compensatory time in excess of the § 207(o)(3)(A) limits. Thus, these provisions, like § 207(o)(5), reflect a legislative concern that employees receive “some timely benefit in exchange for overtime work.” Christensen at 584.

The Court therefore concluded that the best reading of the FLSA is that it ensures liquidation of compensatory time. The law places restrictions on an employer’s ability to prohibit employees from using their compensatory time. But it says nothing about restricting an employer’s efforts to require employees to use the time. Id. at 585. Because the FLSA text is silent on this issue and because the county’s policy was compatible with § 207(o)(5), the Court held that Christensen could not, as § 216(b) of the FLSA requires, prove that the county violated the FLSA’s overtime provisions.

The Court further noted that two other features of the FLSA supported its reading that the FLSA did not prohibit employers from compelling the use of compensatory time. First, the FLSA allows employers to decrease the number of hours that employees work. Id. at 585 (citing Barrentine v. Arkansas—Best Freight System, Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739 (1981) (“[T]he FLSA was designed … to ensure that each employee covered by the Act … would be protected from the evil of overwork …”). And second, the FLSA expressly allows employers to cash out accumulated compensatory time by paying the employee her regular hourly wage for each hour accrued. Id. at 585 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(3)(B) & 29 CFR § 553.27(a)(1999). Thus, the FLSA allows an employer to require an employee to take time off work, and to use the money it would have paid in wages to cash out accrued compensatory time. Id. at 585. The Court concluded that Harris County’s policy of compelling the use of compensatory time “merely involves doing both of these steps at once.” Id. at 586.

Christensen also argued, unsuccessfully, that employers were prohibited from compelling the use of compensatory time pursuant a Department of Labor opinion letter. In that letter, the DOL concluded that an employer may compel the use of compensatory time only if the employee has agreed in advance to such a practice. Id. at 586-87. The Court observed that the opinion letter was not entitled to deference under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), because interpretations contained in opinion letters — similar to policy statements, agency manuals, and enforcement guidelines, all of which lack the force of law — do not warrant Chevron deference. While “persuasive” interpretations in opinion letters are “entitled to respect” under Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 140 (1944) the Court concluded DOL’s interpretation was not persuasive. Id. at 587.

While Chevron deference does apply to an agency interpretation contained in a regulation, the regulation at issue, 29 CFR § 553.23(a)(2), provided only that “[t]he agreement or understanding [between the employer and employee] may include other provisions governing the preservation, use, or cashing out of compensatory time so long as these provisions are consistent with [§ 207(o)].” Id.; Christensen at 587-88. The Court concluded that nothing in 29 CFR § 553.23(a)(2) “even arguably” requires that an employer’s compelled use policy must be included in an agreement. Id. 588. Thus, Chevron deference did not apply. Lastly, deference to an agency’s interpretation of its regulation is warranted under Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997), only when the regulation’s language is ambiguous. The Court held that the DOL’s regulation was not ambiguous, and therefore the DOL’s interpretation of that regulation was not entitled to Auer deference. Id. at 588.

Analysis

In sum, Christensen held that the FLSA does not prohibit public employers from compelling their employees to use their accrued compensatory time. While this issue is not specifically addressed in the text of the FLSA, the law does not explicitly prohibit this practice, and the conclusion that public employers may compel the use of compensatory time is consistent with other aspects of the FLSA that allow an employer to require employees to take time off from work and to use the money it would have paid in wages to cash out accrued compensatory time.

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com.

This blog was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.com.

Wage Law Basics for Public Employees

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires covered employers to pay minimum wages and overtime compensation to certain categories of employees. The rights afforded by the FLSA apply to employees in the private sector as well as employees of state and local governments. However, the FLSA contains some unique provisions that apply only to state and local government employers and their employees. This post summarizes some of those provisions. The US Department of Labor is also an excellent resource for information about the FLSA rights of state and local government employees.

STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYER COVERAGE 

The FLSA defines a covered “employer” to include “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee and includes a public agency[.]” 29 U.S.C. §§ 203(d). It goes on to define “public agency” as “the Government of the United States; the government of a State or political subdivision thereof; any agency of the United States … a State, or a political subdivision of a State; or any interstate governmental agency. 29 U.S.C. §§ 203(x). The FLSA therefore applies to state and local government employers. Notably, the definition of “public agency” does not extend to private companies that engage in activities often performed by public employees, such as government contractors.

COVERAGE OF STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES

The FLSA also makes clear that its rights apply to public agency employees under the law’s “enterprise” coverage provision. 29 U.S.C. § 203(s)(1)(C).

GENERAL REQUIREMENTS 

As with private employers, the FLSA generally requires public agency employers to pay all covered nonexempt employees at least the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. 29 U.S.C. § 206(a). The FLSA also requires public agency employers to comply with the law’s youth employment standards and recordkeeping requirements. 29 U.S.C. § 206(g) (youth employment standards ) &  29 C.F.R. § 516 (recordkeeping requirements). And as with private employers, the FLSA generally requires public agency employers pay covered nonexempt employees overtime compensation — that is, wages equal to at least one and one-half times the employees’ regular rates of pay for all hours worked over 40 in the workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a).

COMPENSATORY TIME FOR PUBLIC AGENCY EMPLOYEES

Unlike private employers, however, public agencies may have the option of offering covered employees a certain amount of “compensatory time” in lieu of paying them cash overtime wages. Compensatory time is paid time off. Under certain circumstances, the FLSA allows state and local government agencies to give nonexempt employees who work overtime hours compensatory time off, instead of cash overtime pay. The amount of compensatory time off the employer gives should correspond to the overtime rate — that is, public employees must receive at least one and one-half hours of paid time off for each overtime hour worked. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o). The FLSA further provides that a public agency must allow employees to use their compensatory time with a “reasonable period” of time after they make a request, unless doing so would “unduly disrupt” the operations of the agency. 29 U.S.C. §§ 207(o)(5). Generally, this means public agencies in normal circumstances should allow employees to use compensatory time on the dates they request.

ACCRUAL OF COMPENSATORY TIME AND LIMITS

Much like vacation time voluntarily offered by some employers, compensatory time can accumulate. Importantly, if employees do not use their accumulated compensatory time, under certain circumstances the FLSA requires the public agency employer to pay the employees cash compensation. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(3)-(4). The FLSA also places limits on the amount of compensatory time that a public agency may give an employee in lieu of paying cash overtime wages. Law enforcement, fire protection, and emergency response personnel and employees engaged in seasonal activities may accrue up to 480 hours of compensatory time (representing 320 overtime hours worked). 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(3)(A). All other state and local government employees may accrue up to 240 hours (representing 160 overtime hours worked). Id. Once an employee accrues the maximum amount of unused compensatory time hours — either 480 or 240, as the case may be — the public agency employer must pay that employee cash overtime wages for all additional overtime hours. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(3)(A).

PAYMENT FOR ACCRUED COMPENSATORY TIME AT TERMINATION

At the end of a public agency employee’s employment, she is generally entitled to receive a cash payment for any unused compensatory time. Because rates of pay may vary over the course of employment, the FLSA provides specific instructions for calculating the cash value of unused compensatory time. Specifically, at the time of termination a public agency employee must be paid the higher of (A) the average regular rate during her last three years of employment, or (B) her final regular rate of pay, for any unused accrued compensatory time remaining when the termination occurs. 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(4).

POSSIBLE DIFFERENCES IN CALCULATION OF OVERTIME PAY – SPECIAL CASES

For certain categories of public agency employees, the calculation of overtime pay may differ from the general requirements of the FLSA. For example:

  • For employees who solely at their option occasionally or sporadically work on a part-time basis for the same public agency in a different capacity than the one in which they are normally employed, the hours worked in the different employment may be excluded by the public agency in calculating hours for which the employee is entitled to overtime compensation. 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(2) & 29 CFR § 553.30;
  • For employees who at their option with approval of the agency substitute for another during scheduled work hours in the same work capacity, the hours the employee worked as a substitute may be excluded by the public agency in calculating hours for which the employee is entitled to overtime compensation. 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(3);
  • Employees who meet exemption requirements for Executive, Administrative, Professional or Outside Sales occupations may be exempt from overtime pay. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1);
  • Hospital or residential care establishments may, with agreement or understanding of employees, adopt a fixed work period of 14 consecutive days and pay overtime after 8 hours in a day or 80 in the work period, whichever is greater. 29 U.S.C. § 207(j);
  • For mass transit employees who spend some time engaged in charter activities, under certain circumstances the employer, in calculating the overtime rate, may exclude the hours the employee was employed in charter activities if (1) the employee’s employment in such activities was pursuant to an agreement or understanding with his employer arrived at before engaging in such employment, and (2) if employment in such activities is not part of such employee’s regular employment. 29 U.S.C. § 207(n)
  • Employees working in separate seasonal amusement or recreational establishments such as swimming pools, parks, etc., may be exempt from overtime pay. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(3).

Importantly, some states with concurrent wage laws may not recognize or allow some or all of the above exemptions. Because employers must comply with the most stringent of the state or federal provisions, it is imperative that employers review applicable state laws before applying any of these exclusions or exemptions.

SPECIAL RULES FOR FIREFIGHTERS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL

The FLSA also provides some special rules for fire protection and law enforcement personnel — public employees whose work schedules traditionally differ from a 40-hour per seven-day workweek.

Under the FLSA, fire protection personnel include firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, rescue workers, ambulance personnel, or hazardous materials workers who: (1) are trained in fire suppression, have the legal authority and responsibility to engage in fire suppression, and are employed by a fire department of a municipality, county, fire district, or state, and (2) are engaged in the prevention, control, and extinguishment of fires or response to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk. 29 U.S.C. § 203(y).

Notably, the FLSA does not place a limit on how much nonexempt work a worker employed in fire protection activities may perform. As long as the employee satisfies the criteria in Section 203(y), she is “employed in fire protection activities” as far as the FLSA is concerned.

Under the FLSA, law enforcement personnel are employees who are (1) empowered by state or local ordinance to enforce laws designed to maintain peace and order, protect life and property, and to prevent and detect crimes; (2) who have the power to arrest; and (3) who have undergone training in law enforcement. 29 C.F.R. § 553.211(a).

Law enforcement personnel may perform some nonexempt work that is not performed as an incident to or in conjunction with their law enforcement activities. But a worker who spends more than 20 percent of the workweek or applicable work period in nonexempt activities is not considered to be an “employee engaged in law enforcement activities” for the purposes of the FLSA. 29 C.F.R. § 553.212.

Additionally, fire protection and law enforcement employees may at their own option perform special duty work in fire protection and law enforcement for a separate and independent employer without including the wages and hours in regular rate or overtime determinations for the primary public employer. 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1).

For the purposes of calculating overtime worked, the FLSA also allows fire departments and police departments to establish special work periods that differ from the traditional 7-day workweek. Specifically, fire departments or police departments may establish a work period ranging from 7 to 28 days in which overtime need be paid only after a specified number of hours in each work period. 29 U.S.C. § 207(k). In the case of a 28-day work period, fire protection employees are entitled to overtime pay (or compensatory time) for hours worked in excess of 212 hours during the period, while law enforcement personnel are entitled to overtime pay (or compensatory time) for hours worked in excess of 171 hours during the period. 29 C.F.R. § 553.230(a)-(b).

In the case of fire protection or law enforcement employees who have a work period of at least 7 but less than 28 consecutive days, overtime compensation is required when the ratio of the number of hours worked to the number of days in the work period exceeds the ratio of 212 (or 171) hours to 28 days. 29 C.F.R. § § 553.20129 C.F.R. § 553.230 (conversion table for ratios). For fire protection personnel, that ratio works out to 7.57 hours per day (rounded); for law enforcement personnel, that ratio works out to 6.11 hours per day (rounded).  29 C.F.R. § 553.230(c).

The FLSA also provides an overtime exemption for very small fire departments and police departments. Specifically, any employee who in any workweek is employed by an agency employing fewer than 5 employees in fire protection or law enforcement may be exempt from overtime. 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(20).

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com.

This blog was also published to TimCoffieldAttorney.net.

Tip Credit Law Basics

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay minimum hourly wages to covered employees. In some workplaces, like restaurants and hotels, the employer’s customers may leave tips directly for the workers. This aspect of American culture raises several questions about employee rights and  employer responsibilities under the FLSA. How does this form of payment impact the employer’s responsibility to pay a minimum wage? Can the employer take the tips from the worker? Can the worker who receives tips be required to give some to other employees? And if an employer improperly keeps tips, can the worker sue to recover the tips?

The 3(m) Tip Credit

The federal Department of Labor maintains excellent resources, such as Fact Sheet No. 15, for learning more about the FLSA’s requirements as they relate to tipped employees. Under the FLSA, an employer must pay employees a minimum hourly wage (currently $7.25). Also under the FLSA, tips left by customers are the property of the employee who receives them. “Tipped employees,” for purposes of the FLSA’s tip credit provisions, are employees who customarily and regularly receive tips. Only tips actually received by the employee may be counted in determining whether the employee is a tipped employee and in applying the tip credit.

The FLSA’s tip credit provision (Section 3(m)) allows an employer to take a “credit” toward its minimum wage obligation for tipped employees in an amount equal to the difference between the mandatory minimum cash wage for tipped employees (currently $2.13) and the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25). The maximum 3(m) tip credit that an employer can claim is therefore currently $5.12 per hour ($7.25 minimum wage minus the required tipped employee cash wage of $2.13). An employer may sometimes be able to claim an additional tip credit against its overtime obligations.

Tip Pooling

Section 3(m) also provides that an employer “may not keep tips received by its employees for any purposes, including allowing managers or supervisors to keep any portion of employees’ tips, regardless of whether or not the employer takes a tip credit.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(m)(2)(B).

In other words, tips are the property of the employee. This requirement, however, does not prohibit an employer from implementing a valid tip pool — i.e. requiring tipped employees to pool or share their tips with other employees who customarily and regularly receive tips, like servers, bellhops, counter personnel (who serve customers), and bussers. When the employer is taking a tip credit (and therefore, directly paying tipped employees less than the federal minimum wage), a valid tip pool may not include employees who do not customarily and regularly receive tips, like dishwashers, cooks, and janitors. However, in light of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which amended parts of the FLSA tip requirements, when the employer is not taking a tip credit (and therefore tipped employees are directly paid at least full minimum wage) tipped employees may be required to pool their tips with non-supervisory employees who do not customarily and regularly receive tips, like cooks.

Under the FLSA, there is no maximum contribution amount or percentage on valid mandatory tip pools. The employer, however, must notify tipped employees of any required tip pool contribution amount, may only take a tip credit for the amount of tips each tipped employee ultimately receives, and may not retain any of the employees’ tips for any other purpose.

Section 3(m) Prohibits Employers From Keeping Tips Regardless of Whether They Take a Tip Credit

The language of section 3(m)(2)(B) makes clear that managers and supervisors are not permitted to keep any portion of an employee’s tips, regardless of whether the employer takes a tip credit. In other words, because tips are the property of the employee, the FLSA prohibits any arrangement whereby any part of the tip received by a tipped employee becomes the property of the employer. This means that even when the employer pays a tipped employee at least $7.25 per hour in direct wages, the employee may not be required to turn over his or her tips to the employer.

An employer who violates this section, and keeps an employee’s tips, or allows managers or supervisors to keep an employee’s tips, may be subject to a civil penalty of $1,100 for each such violation, in addition to being liable to the employee for all tips unlawfully kept, and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages. 29 U.S.C. § 216(e)(2).

Requirements to Take a Tip Credit

To qualify to take a 3(m) tip credit, an employer must first provide the affected tipped employee(s) with the following information:

1) the amount of the cash wage the employer is paying the tipped employee (must be at least $2.13 per hour);

2) the additional amount claimed by the employer as a tip credit (cannot be more than $5.12 — the difference between the $2.13 minimum required cash wage for tipped employees and the current minimum wage of $7.25);

3) that the tip credit claimed by the employer cannot exceed the amount of tips actually received by the tipped employee;

4) that all tips received by the tipped employee are to be retained by the employee except for a valid tip pooling arrangement limited to employees who customarily and regularly receive tips; and

5) that the tip credit will not apply to any tipped employee unless the employee has been informed of these tip credit provisions.

See 29 U.S.C. § 203(m)(2)(A)(ii) & 29 C.F.R. § 531.59. An employer who fails to provide this required information cannot use the 3(m) tip credit. Therefore, an employer who fails to provide this information must pay the tipped employee at least $7.25 per hour in wages and allow the tipped employee to keep all tips received. Employers taking a tip credit must also be able to show that tipped employees receive at least the minimum wage when direct wages paid to the employee are added to the tip credit. If an employee’s tips plus direct wages do not equal at least the federal minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference.

Issues Raised by Dual Jobs

Sometimes, an employee will work in more than one position for the same employer, where one of the positions is tipped and the other is not. For example, an employee might work for a restaurant both as a server (tipped) and a cook (untipped). In this situation, the employee can take the tip credit only for the hours the employee works in the tipped position. Interestingly, however, the FLSA does allow an employer to take a tip credit for some time that the tipped employee spends performing duties related to the tipped position, even though those duties do not directly produce tips. For example, a server who spends some time setting up and cleaning tables, making coffee, and occasionally cleaning glasses or dishes, is considered to be engaged in a tipped occupation even though these duties do not produce tips. See the dual jobs regulation at 29 C.F.R. § 531.56(e).

Summary

In short, tips are the property of the employee. An employer may take a tip credit against its minimum wage obligations so long as it satisfies the notice requirements and the employee receives direct wages (at least $2.13 hourly) plus tips that together meet or exceed the federal minimum wage. An employer who takes a tip credit may only require tip pooling between customarily and regularly tipped employees. An employer who does not take a tip credit can require tip pooling between tipped and non-supervisory non-tipped employees. However, under no circumstances can an employer, including managers and supervisors, keep an employee’s tips for any purpose, regardless of whether the employer takes a tip credit.

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com.

Kasten v. Saint-Gobain: Scope of FLSA Protected Activity

In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 563 U.S. 1 (2011), the Supreme Court held that the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act protects employees who make oral (as well as written) complaints that their employer violated the FLSA.

Facts

Kasten worked for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. He complained orally to his superiors that the company located its timeclocks between the area where Kasten and his co-workers put on (and removed) their work-related protective gear and the area where they carried out their job duties. This location, Kasten complained, prevented workers from receiving credit for the time they spent putting on and taking off their work clothes — contrary to the requirements of the FLSA. Kasten complained only orally and did not make a written complaint. Saint-Gobain fired him. Id. at 5-6.

Kasten then sued his former employer, alleging that Saint-Gobain violated the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision by terminating him for complaining orally about the legality of the location of the timeclocks. The trial court granted summary judgment for the employer, holding that the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision covered only written complaints and did not cover oral complaints. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and Kasten appeals.

The Court’s Decision

The FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision makes it unlawful for employers “to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to [the FLSA], or has testified or is about to testify in such proceeding, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee.” 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3) (emphasis added).

The Court held that the scope of the statutory term “filed any complaint” includes oral, as well as written, complaints — and therefore the FLSA prohibits retaliation against employees who complain orally about violations of the wage and hour law.

As an initial matter, the Court cited its decision in Dolan v. Postal Service, 546 U.S. 481, 486 (2013) for the principle that proper interpretation “depends upon reading the whole statutory text, considering the [statute’s] purpose and context …, and consulting any precedents or authorities that inform the analysis.” The Court further explained that the text at issue — “filed any complaint” — taken alone, could not provide a conclusive answer as to whether it included oral complaints. Some dictionary definitions of “filed” contemplated a writing; others permitted using “file” in conjunction with oral material.

The Court noted that in addition to dictionary definitions, state statutes and federal regulations sometimes contemplate oral filings, and an analysis of contemporaneous judicial usage shows that when the FLSA was passed in 1938 oral filings were a known phenomenon. And even if “filed,” taken in isolation, might suggest a narrow interpretation limited to writings, the remainder of the phrase — “any complaint” — suggested a broad interpretation that would include an oral complaint. Thus, the Court concluded that the phrase “filed any complaint,” taken by itself, was not clear. Id. at 5-11.

Nor could the FLSA’s other references to “filed” resolve the question of whether oral complaints were included. Some parts of the FLSA involve filed material that is almost always written; others specifically require a writing, and others leave the oral/written question unresolved. Because the text at issue, taken alone, might, or might not, encompass oral complaints, the Court had to look to other methods of interpretation. Id. at 5-11.

The Court observed that several “functional considerations” indicated that Congress intended the anti-retaliation provision to cover both oral and written complaints. Id. at 11. First, looking to the FLSA’s purposes, the Court noted that a narrow interpretation excluding oral complaints would undermine the law’s basic objective: to prohibit “labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers,” 29 U.S.C. § 202(a). The Court had previously observed that the FLSA relies for enforcement of its substantive standards on “information and complaints received from employees,” Mitchell v. Robert DeMario Jewelry, Inc., 361 U.S. 288, 292 (1960), and its anti-retaliation provision makes the enforcement scheme effective by preventing “fear of economic retaliation” from inducing workers “quietly to accept substandard conditions[.]” Ibid. With that purpose in mind, the Court noted that limiting the provision’s scope to written complaints could have the undesirable result of preventing Government agencies from using hotlines, interviews, and other oral methods to receive complaints. 563 U.S. at 11-14.

Second, the Court determined that in light of the delegation of enforcement powers to federal agencies, the agencies’ views about the meaning of the phrase “filed any complaint” should be given weight. The Secretary of Labor, charged with enforcing the FLSA, has long interpreted “filed any complaint” as covering both oral and written complaints. Similarly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with enforcing other employment laws, has a similar view that oral complaints are protected complaints. The Court held that these views were reasonable and consistent with the FLSA. And the length of time the Secretary of Labor held its position suggested it was the result of careful consideration, not “post hoc rationalizatio[n].” Id. at 14-16 (quoting Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Assn. of United States, Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 50 (1983)).

Finally, Saint-Gobain made an alternative argument that the anti-retaliation provision only covered official complaints to government agencies or in court, and therefore did not protect internal complaints (written or oral) to employers. The Court declined to address this argument, however, because it was not properly raised in the certiorari briefs and did not need to be addressed to resolve the oral/written complaint issue. Id. at 17.

Scalia dissented on that point, arguing that the language of anti-retaliation provision, in light of the FLSA’s other references to “filing,” only protected official grievances filed with a court or an agency, not oral complaints — or even formal, written complaints — from an employee to an employer. Id. at 18-26.

Analysis

Kasten clarified that an oral complaint about an employer’s FLSA violation is protected activity under the FLSA. The law therefore prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complaint about violations of the federal wage and hour law, regardless of whether the employee complains orally or in writing.

This blog was also posted to TimCoffieldAttorney.com.

This site is intended to provide general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and attorney Tim Coffield or Coffield PLC. Parts of this site may be considered attorney advertising. If you have questions about any particular issue or problem, you should contact your attorney. Please view the full disclaimer. If you would like to request a consultation with attorney Tim Coffield, you may call 1-434-218-3133 or send an email to info@coffieldlaw.com.