317-585-1688
Federal Overtime Rule Currently in White House Review

Federal Overtime Rule Currently in White House Review

Here we go again!  As of August 12th, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed overtime rule affecting the base wage of overtime exemptions was sent to the White House for final review. 

This high-priority Trump Labor Department rule takes a more business-friendly approach than attempted in the Obama administration—expecting to make about 1 million workers newly eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay when working more than 40 hours in a week.

Raising the Threshold

According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) the rule would raise the salary threshold for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s) white-collar exemptions to $35,308 ($679 a week) per year from $23,660 ($455 a week). The barred Obama-era rule would have raised the threshold to about $47,500, and worker advocates as well as some Democratic lawmakers are still pushing for that level. However, business groups generally support the Trump administration’s proposed increase.

SHRM states that to be exempt from overtime, employees must be paid a salary of at least the threshold amount and also meet certain “duties” tests. These tests define specific regulations for several exemptions, the most common being those related to executive, administrative and professional work. If they are paid less or do not meet the duties test requirements, employees must be paid 1 1/2 times their regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.

A Rushed Rule

The DOL sent the final draft to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs only five months after proposing the rule, resulting in more than 116,000 public comments. Urgency from department officials stems from the desire for protection from anticipated legal battles with worker advocates. 

According to a report by Bloomberg Law, the administration wants the rule in place before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term in office. Bloomberg also reported new regulations are in the works for calculating overtime pay rates and limiting wage and hour liability for franchisers and businesses that use staffing labor.

What It Means 

If finalized, the overtime rule would cover more workers than was previously the case.  More than a million currently exempt workers would be reclassified as non-exempt, and pay would increase for those above the new threshold. Unlike prior drafts, the proposal does not call for automatic adjustments to the salary threshold, does not create different salary levels based on the region of the country, and does not make any changes to the duties tests. 

The salary threshold was last increased in 2004. The DOL is using the same economic methodology used to reach that standard, which the department officials say should protect the proposal from litigation.

(To get a more comprehensive timeline, click here to read our March 2019 blog and October 2016 blog, or check out SHRM’s Overtime Rule History timeline here.) 

While You Wait

Time will tell—likely sooner than later. But in the meantime, employers should begin auditing their exempt workforces to determine how many might qualify under the criteria of executive, administrative and professional exemptions. Before re-classification, it is possible that employees currently or potentially exempt due to salary may not pass the primary duties tests. 

Now is also a good time to weigh your options as an employer. If exempt employees currently make salaries significantly lower than the threshold, reclassifying employees to non-exempt and overtime eligible might make sense. 

But, employers can also avoid salary and overtime pay altogether. Hours for newly non-exempt employees may be reduced, part-time or contract workers may be hired to fill gaps, tasks may be re-assigned to other exempt employees, and perks may be dismissed since the exempt/non-exempt distinction is often used to provide benefits. 

If making such significant changes, employers must then weigh the cost of morale. Overall, it makes more sense to reclassify to non-exempt if an employee does not work much beyond forty hours. But for employees who often work over 40, it may be less difficult and less expensive to increase salary to the new threshold, rather than paying consistent overtime.

In general, the pending proposal offers valuable time for fixing current errors and planning for the future. We at Servant HR would love to help plan for yours. If you’re our client, we’re already on it. But if you have questions about the specifics of the proposal, or are wondering how a PEO can help manage these crucial details, please don’t hesitate. Contact us today!

Eight Things Your Remote Work Policy Should Cover

Eight Things Your Remote Work Policy Should Cover

It may seem like a simple, generous gesture to offer employees a remote work option. The trend is certainly up, as over a third of full-time employees are projected to work remotely in the next ten years. And with such high demand, the ability to work from home can give your business a competitive edge in the war for talent. 

However, offering the option to work remote isn’t as simple as just saying yes. Compliance risks must be considered alongside the creation of a definitive policy. Rich Henson from HR Morning writes

“Without a legally sound remote work policy, your well-intended efforts to improve working conditions can unexpectedly create big legal problems for you.” 

Potential legal pitfalls include FLSA violations, discrimination and disability issues, workers compensation, health and safety issues, data security concerns and more. 

Still, while 63% of companies have at least some remote workers, the majority don’t have a remote work policy in place. Unsurprisingly, many companies operate under unspoken or informal guidelines, as remote work is still a new concept and companies are learning to adapt. 

Unspoken rules may work for a time, but ultimately lead to confusion. To set employees up for success, there must be clear expectations for work, both in and out of the office. Trust is more quickly and easily established when both employees and supervisors work under clear guidelines. 

So how then do you create an airtight policy that wards off legal pitfalls and establishes straight-forward expectations? So glad you asked! The following rule-areas offer eight great starting points for drafting a cohesive remote work policy.

  1. Eligibility: Your policy should clearly state what positions are allowed to work remotely. If none of your positions are remote-compliant, state this from the beginning to eliminate any further questions or potential loopholes.
  2. Availability: Outline specific expectations for when remote employees should be available. You may need employees available from 9am to 5pm, or you may allow employees to set their own work hours. Either way, make rules on availability clear in the policy.
  3. Responsiveness: Are remote employees required to immediately respond to coworkers? What is the best way to communicate with remote employees—chat, email, Slack? Be sure to specify how responsive employees should be, and what modes of communication should be used.
  4. Measuring Productivity: This one is especially important. Make sure your policy outlines how employee productivity will be measured when working outside the office.This establishes employee accountability and trust with supervisors as well as with other coworkers.
  5. Equipment: Remote work only works if employees have the right tools at home. Companies must state what equipment they are willing to offer remote employees, and what equipment the employee must provide themselves. For example, the policy must state whether employees must use personal laptops, or if they will be issued a company laptop.
  6. Tech support: If remote employees have technical difficulties at home, what is expected of them? Should they return to the office, or complete work at another time? Specify a plan of action and identify what tech support can be offered to remote workers.
  7. Physical Environment: Some employers prefer/require the approval of an employee’s physical environment before remote work is allowed. This should involve a focus on a safe environment designed to reduce the risk of workers’ compensation injuries.  Whatever your company’s stance, state it clearly in the policy.
  8. Security: Doing work outside of the office can compromise security. Policies must provide employees with specific protocol for doing work in public, such as how to properly dispose of confidential papers and how to take electronic security measures.

Daunting as it may seem, drafting a remote work policy simply requires employer anticipation of employee questions. Preventing legal issues and offering a clear, consistently implemented policy not only protects your company, but establishes your company as thoughtful and prepared. 

Have more questions or need help starting your remote work policy? Risk management is an area Servant HR specializes in. We’d love to help you lose the administrative burden of policy making so you can focus on what you specialize in! Contact us today and see what we can take off your plate. 

Five Ways to Prevent FMLA Abuse

Five Ways to Prevent FMLA Abuse

The sun is out, temperatures are up, and employee attendance is… down. There’s a reason cynics in the HR world nickname The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the “Friday Monday Leave Act.

FMLA allows up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave each year, as a means for employees to balance their work and family responsibilities. The specific intent as stated by the Department of Labor, is “to promote the stability and economic security of families, as well as the nation’s interest in preserving the integrity of families.”

FMLA is required of employers that have over fifty employees on twenty or more weeks in the prior or current year. To be eligible, employees must have worked at an organization for at least twelve months and logged at least 1,250 hours of service during that time. Qualified employees are permitted FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:

  1. To care for their child after birth, adoption or foster care.
  2. To care for the employee’s spouse, child or parent who has a “serious” health condition.
  3. The employee’s own “serious” health condition makes him or her unable to perform the job.

FMLA is over twenty years old, but surveys show the act still ranks as one of the most confusing and frustrating employment laws for companies to administer. Along with understanding the specifics of the act as it relates to each state and circumstance, employers must also be aware of FMLA abuse tactics.

FMLA expert Jeff Nowak suggests companies take the following measures to ensure fair leave and accountability to the intent of FMLA.

1. Require (and question) employee leave requests

This is an effective strategy for cutting down on all types of absences. An employer cannot deny FMLA leave to a worker who puts in a notice, but simply requiring a written request can deter employees from taking unnecessary leave. It is also helpful for employers to have a list of questions ready when an employee requests time off. Ask about the job functions they are unable to perform, if they will see a health care provider, and when they expect to return to work. Employers have the right to know why an employee can’t come to work and a little probing can help determine if the FMLA request is legitimate.

2. Enforce a daily call-in policy

Requiring employees to call in one hour before their shift to report an absence is another inconvenience that may prevent abuse altogether. An extended vacation may not sound as appealing if you know you have to call into work every single day. As long as a policy is in place and there are no unusual circumstances, it is okay to deny FMLA leave to an employee who fails to call in before their absence.

3. Certify, and then certify again

According to Novak, one of the best tools employers can use to fight FMLA abuse is the medical certification form. Upon the first absence in a new FMLA year, require medical certification to verify the serious health condition. If circumstances change and an employee needs an extra day or week of intermittent leave, require recertification at the earliest opportunity. Employees typically have fifteen days to get a certification returned to their employer.

4. Follow up on patterns

Noticing a lot of sunny Monday and Friday absences? Is holiday time off frequently extended? These are common patterns of FMLA abuse. If a series of weeks or back-to-back months indicates a regular pattern of absences, employers can follow FMLA regulations to consult the employee’s physician. This can simply confirm whether the pattern is consistent with the employee’s health condition and need for leave.

5. Conduct an audit

FMLA policy and forms must be up to date in order to ensure compliance and the best strategies to combat abuse. Be proactive with your employment counsel or PEO to ensure that loopholes are minimized and your FMLA administration is running smoothly.

By partnering with Servant HR as your PEO, you get a fully integrated human resources team working for your protection. Worried about legal compliance? Not sure if your FMLA policy is at it’s best? That’s where we come in. Contact us today!

What the New Exempt Salary Threshold Could Mean for Your Business

What the New Exempt Salary Threshold Could Mean for Your Business

In December 2016, compliance with the Obama administration and the Department of Labor’s proposed wage minimum required extreme reclassification. (Read our 2016 blog on this proposal here.) The proposal would have raised minimum exemption wage to a jarring $47,476 from the previous $23,660. Push back from businesses combined with a late term lawsuit kept the proposal pending until Trump took office.

This Just In

As of last week, the Department of Labor has proposed an increase straight down the middle of the historic minimum and attempted Obama-era hike. The current proposed salary-level threshold for white-collar exemptions now sits at $35,308. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the proposal, if finalized, could result in the transition of more than one million currently exempt workers to non exempt, as well as many pay increases for employees below the new threshold.

Nonexempt employees (those who do not meet the salary base and do not match FLSA work requirements) must receive a “time and one half” pay rate for any hours worked over forty in a workweek. The FLSA “duties test” defines specific regulations for executive, administrative and professional work that make an employee exempt, in addition to the salary threshold.

Tricky Business

While compliance is mandatory if the proposal is finalized, the specific way of reaching compliance is left to employer decisions.

If exempt employees currently make salaries significantly lower than the threshold, reclassifying employees to non-exempt and overtime eligible might make sense.

But, employers can also avoid salary and overtime pay altogether. Hours for newly non-exempt employees may be reduced, part-time or contract workers may be hired to fill gaps, tasks may be re-assigned to other exempt employees, and perks may be dismissed since the exempt/non-exempt distinction is often used to provide benefits.

Employers must then weigh the cost of morale.

Overall, it makes more sense to reclassify to nonexempt if an employee does not work much beyond forty hours. But for employees who often work over 40, it may be less difficult and less expensive to increase salary to the new threshold, rather than paying consistent overtime.

What Now?

There is still a long way to go before reclassification. Proposals are always small first steps in a lengthy process before finalization.

However, employers do not have to wait for the final rule to review FLSA duty requirements. Jeffrey Ruzal, an attorney with Epstein Becker Green, recommends employers begin auditing their exempt workforces to determine how many might qualify under the criteria of executive, administrative and professional exemptions. Before raging re-classification, it is possible that employees currently or potentially exempt due to salary, may not pass the primary duties tests.

In general, this pending proposal offers valuable time for fixing current errors and planning for the future. We at Servant HR would love to help plan for yours. If you’re our client, we’re already on it. But if you have questions about the specifics of the proposal, or are wondering how a PEO can help manage these crucial details, please don’t hesitate. Contact us today!

Employee vs. Independent Contractor: The latest NLRB approach

Employee vs. Independent Contractor: The latest NLRB approach

A new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision has drawn a blurrier line between employers and independent contractors. Returning to pre-Obama-era policies, the NLRB is now more likely to acknowledge independent contractor relationships.

A wide array of federal, state and local laws govern the relationship between employers and their employees. But often these laws do not apply to those classified as independent contractors.

The distinction between the two is critical, but hazy, as each law has a slightly different way of discerning independent contractors from employees. Courts and agencies add complication as well through differing interpretations of those laws, along with frequently changing standards according to appointed political party.

Back and Forth

Last year the California Supreme Court broadened the definition of “employee” for wage order claims. Obama-era guidance restricted an employer’s ability to classify workers as independent contractors. Now under President Trump, federal agencies are swinging back the other way.

According to Ryan Funk of Faegre Baker Daniels, the new NLRB decision returns to how it viewed independent contractors before Obama-era restrictions. Funk writes, “The main difference between the new test and the Obama-era one is how the agency looks at whether workers have ‘entrepreneurial opportunity.’”

Action vs. Opportunity

The Obama-era decision gave weight only to actual entrepreneurial activity (and even then, only when looking at just one part of a multi-factor test.) This narrow view makes the chance of meeting criteria significantly slim.

The new NLRB decision re-establishes the value of entrepreneurial activity. The principle of “opportunity for entrepreneurial activity” is used to evaluate the overall effect of each of the ten factors in a common-law analysis of an independent contractor relationship.

The decision is employer friendly, as it frees up employers to classify independent contractors and drop the host of governing laws.

Boiling It Down

While employers are freed up through the new decision, the line is still blurry. Those looking for a clear distinction between employee and independent contractor are in for a letdown. According to Funk, “Any legal test with ten factors is bound to boil down to a case-by-case approach.”

Even tests and their factors can vary case-by-case. Over the last thirty years the IRS has used an old revenue ruling twenty-point test, the tax court has used a seven-point test, and the IRS has espoused a three-pronged “control test.” Confusion is certainly understandable.

Therefore, independent contractor relationships should be re-analyzed in light of the new NLRB approach. Based on potential IRS involvement, it’s also important to note that the NLRB is just one voice in a crowd of agencies, so employers should stay up to date as independent contractor tests continue to evolve.

Happy New W-2!

Happy New W-2!

A W-2 tax form shows the amount of income and amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck for the year and is used to file your federal and state taxes.

The IRS requires W-2’s be mailed by employers and postmarked by January 31st. For us at Servant HR, that means our annual W-2 envelope stuffing (pizza party) happens in late January to ensure all forms reach our employees on time. Along with many other employers, we also provide access to W-2’s online.

Form W-2 is used by corporations and small businesses to report taxable income to workers. W-2 forms are divided into state and federal sections, since employees must file taxes on both levels. The W-2 also includes social security and government health care withholdings.

For employees this means a few things:

 

1. You are required to report all wages you earned from your job(s) during the year on your tax return. You should receive and complete a W-2 from every employer that paid you at least $600 during the year. For freelancers and contract workers, a 1099 form is used instead.

2. Every W-2 form contains the same information, regardless of format. Lettered boxes are for identifying information. Numbered boxes are for financial information. For a more detailed description of requirements for each box, read here.

3. While it can be tempting to get a head start on tax season, never use a final pay stub in place of a W-2 when filing your taxes. Reported earnings on your last pay stub may differ from the reported earnings on your W-2. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as participation in pre-tax deduction health insurance, participation in a company sponsored retirement plan, or the earnings on your pay stub may include non-taxable income items.

4. If you don’t receive your W-2 by mid-February, check online or contact your employer and request that a copy be resent. If there is still no action taken, call the IRS using the phone number and information detailed here.

5. If your employer makes an error on your W-2 (i.e. leaves out a decimal or spells your name wrong) point out the mistake immediately and ask for a corrected W-2. This could mean you’ll be in a bit of a time crunch, so you may have to estimate your earnings and withholdings.

6. Your tax return is due on April 15, 2019. If your corrected W-2 arrives after you’ve filed your tax return, you may need to go back and amend it using the 1040-X form.

7. Once you file your taxes, you should receive your tax refund within 21 days of filing.

 

Keep your eyes open for W-2’s in your mailbox and feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

And if you’re interested in spending less time on tax stuff, HR, payroll, benefits and risk management and more time on your actual business, we’re here for you. It’s a new year, but we’re for our same mission: creating freedom to focus.

Happy 2019! (And happy almost-tax-season!)

 

Call Now Button