Docking Pay From Salaried, Exempt Employees Is Illegal...And Very Common

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law the controls the terms under which employees must be paid overtime. All employees fall into one of two categories "Exempt" or "Non-Exempt". If an employee is non-exempt, when they reach more than 40 hours in a given work week, they have to be paid at time and a half for any additional hours. If they are non-exempt), they aren't eligible for overtime. Most people think of non-exempt employees as "hourly" and exempt employees as "salaried".

  • Pro-Tip: Just because your employer pays you as salaried does not necessarily mean that you should be considered exempt and not entitled to overtime. Exempt employees are typically involved in management or high-level administration of the business. There are other exceptions as well but a good rule of thumb is this: if you are more like a rank and file line worker or clerical worker, you should probably be getting overtime. If you aren't you need to find a good employment lawyer.

As a general rule exempt employees are paid a salary and don't have to be paid overtime no matter how many hours they work. But there are other rules that come that exempt status. One important one that employers often ignore is the rule against docking pay.

Exempt employees who are late or who need to leave work early - for doctor's appointment, child care, whatever - cannot have their pay docked for missing a couple of hours of work. If an exempt, salaried employee shows up for work, even if it's just for 15 minutes, he or she must be paid for the entire day. That's the rule.

The employer can discipline, fire, or demote the employee. But it cannot dock the employee's pay.  Importantly, the employer is allowed to dock vacation time and force the employee to use that to cover the hours missed. But the employees pay may never be docked.

So what happens if the employer breaks this rule and docks pay? Well then the employer has just lost the FLSA "exemption" as to that employee. This means the employee is owed overtime for all hours over 4o worked in the last two years plus all overtime worked in the future. This can add up to a substantial amount.

So, long story short is this: If you are paid by salary and your employer docks your pay for being late or missing a few hours of work here or there, you should contact an employment lawyer right away. Your employer is taking advantage of you and breaking the law. You may be owed a substantial amount of overtime pay.

The Rise of Digital Wage Theft

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The days of punching a manual time-clock when you arrive at work are all but over. Digital time tracking systems now use things like facial recognition to monitor when a worker arrives and has finished for the day. However, the software that’s replaced the 19th century time-clock technology is helping some employers steal workers’ hourly pay.

This so-called wage theft is a problem for many healthcare workers, drivers, and food-service and factory employees, according to a study by Elizabeth Tippett, associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, published in the American Business Law Journal. An earlier report from the Economic Policy Institute found that wage theft in the US may account for more than $15 billion each year.

How digital wage theft works

Tippett’s study of 330 cases litigated in state and federal courts found three main types of digital wage theft:

  • Rounding, which happens when the software is set to alter an employee’s starting and finishing times to pre-defined increments
  • Automatic break deductions, which deduct preset time increments (for lunch or other breaks) from pay, regardless of whether the break was taken
  • Time shaving, which takes place when managers alter time records to pare down the number of hours worked

Read more about this study in this article by John Detrixhe. 

Supreme Court Denies Overtime Pay to Service Advisors at Auto Shops & Dealerships

This week in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, the Supreme Court limited overtime pay for service advisors at car dealerships nationwide, ruling that those employees are primarily salespeople who sell brake jobs, oil changes and other service work. Encino Motorcars' current and former service advisors sought backpay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime-pay requirement, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(10)(A). The requirement exempts “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles, trucks, or farm implements.”

The Supreme Court, in an 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Thomas, reinstated the dismissal of the suit. According to the Court, service advisors are “salesm[e]n . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles." The ordinary meaning of “salesman” is someone who sells goods or services, and service advisors “sell [customers] services for their vehicles,” Service advisors are also “primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” “Servicing” can mean either “the action of maintaining or repairing” or “[t]he action of providing a service.” Service advisors satisfy both definitions. They meet customers; listen to their concerns; suggest repair and maintenance services; sell new accessories or replacement parts; record service orders; follow up with customers as services are performed; and explain the work when customers return for their vehicles. While service advisors do not spend most of their time physically repairing automobiles, neither do partsmen, who are “primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.”

The Court rejected giving Chevron deference to the federal agency and rejected the interpretation of the Department of Labor and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who had both relied on matching “salesman” with “selling” and “partsman [and] mechanic” with “[servicing]”. The but the word “or” is “almost always disjunctive.” Using “or” to join “selling” and “servicing” suggests that the exemption covers a salesman primarily engaged in either activity. The Court held that the FLSA gives no textual indication that its exemptions should be construed narrowly, thus ignoring the long-standing precedent that remedial statutes should be interpreted in order to provide broad protections to the individuals they seek to protect. 

Writing in dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the service advisors at Encino Motorcars "work regular hours, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., at least five days per week, on the dealership premises. Their weekly minimum is 55 hours." Federal law calls for a time-and-a-half pay after 40 hours in a week, she noted. "Because service advisers neither sell nor repair automobiles, they should remain outside the exemption and within the act's coverage," she said. Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan agreed.

This is but one of many examples to come that will demonstrate the importance of elections on the Court. The election of Trump coupled with the Senate's highly questionable antics used to nab a seat for Justice Gorsuch has led to the elimination of overtime protections for thousands of workers across the country. Many will never see Justice Gorsuch as a legitimate member of the Court. However, his votes (expected to be 100% anti-worker) on the Court will be powerful all the same.

Read the Opinion

"Service Fees" Can Confuse Matters for Tipped Employees

 Tipped Employees

Tipped Employees

While most restaurants leave it up to their customers to decide how much to tip their servers, and increasing trend among some restaurants is to include a mandatory gratuity or “service fee” on their bills. Sometimes this is done only for groups of six or more patrons. Other times it is included as an extra charge when customers purchase a banquet package or other private dining option.

Mandatory gratuities or services fees are legal only under certain circumstances and only if handled properly by the employer. In some states, such fees are only legal if the money is used for the sole purpose of paying the server. Under the FLSA, service charges must be counted as income on the books of the restaurant, and then they may be used to pay servers or for other purposes. In no event, however, may servers be paid less than the minimum wage.

Other common issues tipped restaurant workers face include:

  • Requiring servers and bartenders to contribute a percentage of tips to a tip pool, but using the tips to pay employees who are not customarily tipped, such as custodial, management, or kitchen workers.
  • Denying overtime pay to employees who worked at more than one restaurant owned or controlled by the same company, even when their combined hours totaled more than 40 hours in one workweek.
  • Having employees work off-the-clock, earning only tips for their labor. Even if tipped employees receive most of their pay through tipping, the employer still must pay them at least $2.13/hour in cash wages on top of whatever tips they may earn.

If you have a question about how a tipped employee should be paid or if you think your employer is violating the FLSA, visit my main website to learn more.

Halliburton pays nearly $18.3 million in overtime owed to more than 1,000 employees nationwide after US Labor Department investigation

 Employee Rights Under the FLSA

Employee Rights Under the FLSA

In one of the largest recoveries of overtime wages in recent years for the U.S. Department of Labor, oil and gas service provider, Halliburton, has agreed to pay $18,293,557 to 1,016 employees nationwide. The department's Wage and Hour Division investigated Halliburton as part of an ongoing, multi-year compliance initiative in the oil and gas industry in the Southwest and Northeast.

Investigators found Halliburton incorrectly categorized employees in 28 job positions as exempt from overtime. The company did not pay overtime to these salaried employees — working as field service representatives, pipe recovery specialists, drilling tech advisors, perforating specialists and reliability tech specialists — when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The company also failed to keep accurate records of hours worked by these employees.

Simply paying an employee a salary does not necessarily mean the employee is not eligible for overtime. The FLSA provides an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay requirements for individuals employed in bona fide executive, administrative, professional and outside sales positions, as well as certain computer employees. To qualify for exemption, employees generally must meet certain tests regarding their job duties and be paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 per week. Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for an exemption to apply, an employee's specific job duties and salary must meet all the requirements of the department's regulations.

The FLSA requires that covered, non-exempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers must maintain accurate time and payroll records.

Supreme Court Rules 6-2 Against Tyson -- Workers Win Millions in Back Pay

 Supreme Court Rules For Workers in Pay Dispute

Supreme Court Rules For Workers in Pay Dispute

In a victory for American workers, the Supreme Court last week upheld a $5.8 million judgment against Tyson Foods in a pay dispute with more than 3,000 workers at a pork-processing plant in Iowa. You can read the opinion in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo here.

The justices voted 6-2 on to reject new limits Tyson asked them to impose on the ability of workers to band together to challenge pay and workplace issues. The case revolved around the question of whether the workers could bring a class action case. Tyson argued that since each employee spent a different amount of time putting an gear and removing it, they shouldn't be able to sue as a group using "representative evidence" to prove up their case. The court rejected that argument.

“In many cases,” according to the Court majority opinion, “a representative sample is ‘the only practicable means to collect and present relevant data'” to prove that the company being sued was legally at fault.   The opinion went on to provide some guidance to when such evidence would be allowed in such cases.

In this case, the Court was more content to allow such evidence because Tyson Foods had not obeyed its legal duty to keep records on how much each worker had worked as overtime.  Without such records, the employees had to marshal other evidence, and the sample was the best proof available to them.

The case is notable because it represents at least a small opening in the legal wall against group actions that the Supreme Court has been steadily building over the last several years.

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