New Overtime Rules Double Salary Requirements for Exempt Employees

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On December 1, 2016, Most Employees’ Annual Salaries Must be at Least $47,476 to Qualify as Exempt from Overtime Pay Requirements

By Kathleen M. Carter

kathleen.carter@mhtlaw.com

On May 23, 2016, the Department of Labor issued new rules regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) that almost double the threshold salary requirements for employees to qualify as exempt from overtime pay requirements, raising the minimum salary from $455/weekly ($22,750 annually) to $913/weekly ($47,476 annually) (the “Adjusted Salary Threshold”). The new rules take effect on December 1, 2016, and will result in nearly 4.2 million more people qualifying for overtime pay.  Although these new rules apply to all employers, including units of local government, the FLSA also contains provisions specific to local governments.

Generally, the FLSA requires that overtime compensation be paid at a rate not less than one and one-half times a non-exempt employee’s regular rate of pay for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours per work week. Certain employees, however, are exempt from these requirements and need not be paid overtime.

In order to qualify as exempt, an employee must satisfy a “duties test” and be paid a specified minimum salary. It was this minimum salary requirement that was adjusted by the new overtime rules and with which employers must comply by December 1, 2016.

In addition to the Adjusted Salary Threshold, the new rules: (1) raised the compensation level for “highly compensated individuals” to be considered exempt to $134,004, annually; (2) defined that up to 10% of an employee’s standard salary level can come from non-discretionary bonuses, incentive payments, and commission, paid at least quarterly; and (3) established a mechanism for an automatic 3-year adjustment of the salary threshold.

Not all municipal employees will be affected by the new rules. For example, the new rules will not impact currently non-exempt hourly and salaried employees, who will continue to be entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a work week. Moreover, the new rules will not affect any employees who are not covered by the FLSA, such as independent contractors.  The FLSA also provides several exemptions unique to public bodies, such as the “small-agency” exemption for law enforcement or firefighter agencies that employ fewer than five such employees.  Otherwise, the new rules will significantly impact many municipal employees previously considered to be “exempt.”

With respect to municipal employees to whom the new rules apply, there are several options that municipal employers may use to comply with the new rules, including:

  • Raise salaries of currently exempt employees to meet the new threshold and maintain their exempt status;
  • Maintain salaries and either prohibit overtime or pay overtime for hours worked over 40;
  • Adjust wages so that when overtime is calculated, average pay remains the same; or
  • Utilize compensatory time rather than cash overtime payments (only applicable to state and local governmental employers and in certain instances).

The penalties can be steep for violations of the FLSA overtime provisions. Accordingly, regardless of the method chosen, municipal employers should review employee compensation and their “duties” classifications to ensure that they are prepared to comply with the new rules.

MHT will soon provide a seminar to public bodies that addresses the new rules and offers guidance for how public bodies should proceed. Additional information related to the new overtime rules can also be found at http://mhtlaw.com/overtime/.