CLOSE X
RSS Feed LinkedIn Instagram Twitter Facebook
Search:
FMG Law Blog Line

Archive for the ‘Employment Law Blog (US)’ Category

To Bonus or Not to Bonus? Departing from the FLSA, the California Supreme Court Clarifies Calculation of Overtime Including Flat Sum Bonuses

Posted on: April 16th, 2018

By: Christine C. Lee

Calculating the correct overtime pay rate for non-exempt employees just got a little more complicated for California employers who elect to pay bonuses.  In the recent case of Alvarado v. Dart Container Corporation of California, plaintiff Hector Alvarado, a non-exempt warehouse worker, was paid a flat “attendance bonus” of $15 per day in addition to his hourly rate if he worked a full shift on a Saturday or Sunday.  Because there was no California statute, regulation or wage order directing how employers should calculate the rate of pay for overtime purposes when such non-discretionary flat sum bonuses are paid, the employer, Dart Container Corporation of California, followed the methodology set forth in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Dart calculated the overtime pay rate by taking Mr. Alvarado’s total earnings in the relevant pay period, which included the attendance bonuses, and dividing that figure by all hours worked in the pay period including overtime.  Using this figure, Dart paid Mr. Alvarado 1.5 times this rate for every overtime hour worked.

To thank his employer for the bonuses, Mr. Alvarado sued Dart in a wage and hour class action alleging Dart miscalculated the overtime rate of pay.  He argued Dart should have divided the period’s earnings and attendance bonuses only by the amount of non-overtime hours worked which would have resulted in a marginally higher overtime rate of pay.  In support of his position, Mr. Alvarado relied on the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s (DLSE) Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual which states that when employees earn a flat sum bonus, their overtime rate is determined by dividing the regular and bonus earnings only by the regular non-overtime hours worked during the relevant pay period.  The case reached the California Supreme Court for guidance.

There, Dart argued because its formula complied with the federal FLSA when California law gave no guidance, its methodology was lawful.  Dart also argued the DLSE Manual was merely an underground regulation and interpretation of the law and therefore was not entitled to any special deference.  The Court agreed the DLSE manual was not entitled to special deference.  Nevertheless, the Court held “[W]e are obligated to prefer an interpretation that discourages employers from imposing overtime work and that favors the protection of the employee’s interests.”  The Court found Mr. Alvarado’s method was “marginally more favorable to employees” and should now be the law of California.  To add further ambiguity to its ruling, the Court cautioned this methodology only applied to non-production related flat sum bonuses and not necessarily to production-based bonuses such as piece rate or commission-based bonuses.

Dart requested only prospective application of the Court’s rulings since California law had been unclear up to that point.  The Court refused the request, leaving Dart on the hook for 4+ years’ worth of unpaid overtime, penalties for inaccurate wage statements, penalties under Labor Code §203 and California’s Private Attorney General Act, and attorney’s fees and costs.

The unfortunate result of this decision is that employers may stop bonusing non-exempt employees and/or flee California to avoid this kind of catastrophic litigation.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Christine Lee at [email protected].

 

New Jersey Passes New All-Encompassing Pay Equity Bill

Posted on: April 13th, 2018

By: Jennifer L. Ward and John P. McAvoy

On March 26, 2018, the New Jersey Legislature passed Senate Bill 104, an all-encompassing pay equity bill. Senate Bill 104, entitled the “Diana B. Allen Equal Pay Act,” expands the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) beyond gender and race/ethnicity pay equality and endeavors to promote equal pay for all protected classes under the LAD. Governor Phil Murphy is widely expected to sign the measure into law effective July 1, 2018.

Substantial Changes to Pay Equity Law

Senate Bill 104 makes four particularly noteworthy changes to the State’s pay equity law, all of which substantially affect New Jersey employers.

First, and most importantly, the bill prohibits pay disparities based upon any ‘protected characteristic’ protected by the LAD. ‘Protected characteristics’ under the LAD include, but are not necessarily limited to, gender, race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy or breastfeeding, sex, gender identity or expression, and disability.  Employers are prohibited from paying protected class employees a lower rate for wages, benefits, and/or other compensation than employees who are not members of the protected class “for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility.”

Second, it expands the LAD’s non-retaliation provision to protect employees who seek legal advice, share relevant information with legal counsel, or information with a governmental entity, for any reason, and not solely limited to pursuing legal action or an investigation regarding equal pay.

Third, the bill extends the statute of limitations for pay equity violations to six years.  It further provides that liability continues to accrue and back pay is available for the entire period during which the violation has been continuous, subject to the now six-year statute of limitations.  The statute of limitations may be tolled by the continuing violation doctrine and/or the discovery rule.

Fourth, it significantly increases the damages that are potentially recoverable for an unlawful employment practice. Under the new bill, an unlawful employment practice occurs each occasion that an individual is affected by a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice. This includes each occasion that wages, benefits, or other compensation are paid by virtue of the decision or practice, thereby increasing damages significantly. In addition to back pay and liquidated and common law tort damages which the LAD already provided, the bill provides that a jury or the New Jersey Civil Rights Commission must award treble damages (i.e., 3x damages) when an employer violates the equal pay or expanded non-retaliation provisions of this bill. As a result, employers deemed to have committed an unlawful employment practice will be required to pay a hefty amount.

Recommendations to Employers

Employers should take steps to justify any differential in the rate of compensation paid to similarly situated employees. Under the new bill, employers may justify a differential in the rate of compensation by implementing a seniority system, merit system, or a bona fide factor other than a protected characteristic. Such factors include education, experience, training, or the quantity or quality of production so long as it is job-related, and based on a legitimate business necessity, and if the employer demonstrates that the factor is not based on, and does not perpetuate, a differential in compensation based on any protected characteristic. Employers should document any justification that warrants a differential in the rate of compensation paid.

Employers should consider engaging in attorney-client privileged equal pay studies to ensure that compensation differentials can be explained based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.  Such studies should also be considered at the time that bonuses, merit increases, and other benefits are being finalized to ensure that potentially violative salary differentials are not unwittingly triggered.

Want to learn more about equal pay studies? We can help you decide whether an equal pay study is right for your company.

Please call or email Jennifer Ward (267.758.6012 [email protected]) and John McAvoy (215.789.4919 [email protected]). Our motto and goal is “Your Problem Solved!”.

Guns in the Workplace: A Primer for Employers in PA & NJ

Posted on: April 12th, 2018

By: John P. McAvoy

Presently and tentatively, Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not have guns-at-work laws. There are, however, gun laws in place in both states that similarly impede an employer’s ability to control the workplace; namely, the states’ right-to-carry laws.

New Jersey has some of the most restrictive right-to-carry laws in the country. For starters, the state does not allow individuals to open carry handguns. The state is also known as a “may issue” state, which means the chief police officer of a city or county, or the superintendent of the state police, has discretion in determining whether to issue a concealed weapons permit to an applicant. New Jersey law generally forbids any person to “ha[ve] in his possession any handgun …, without first obtaining a permit to carry the same.” N.J.S.A. § 2C:39-5(b). While state law provides certain exceptions to this general ban—including one for “keeping or carrying [a firearm] about [one’s] place of business, residence, premises or other land owned or possessed by him,” id. at § 2C:39-6(e), these exceptions do not allow the concealed carrying of a handgun in public without first obtaining a permit, and it is nearly impossible for an individual to obtain a handgun carry permit in New Jersey. See generally id. at §§ 2C: 58-3; 58-4; and N.J.A.C. 13:54-2.4(b) (outlining numerous screening and training requirements an applicant must satisfy in order to be eligible for a handgun carry permit, including a ‘justifiable need’ to carry a handgun). New Jersey’s right-to-carry laws are so restrictive that the state does not have or need separate laws governing firearms on private property, including parking lots, much less in the workplace. On their face, these laws make it unlawful for almost all employees to possess concealed firearms in the workplace.

Pennsylvania’s right-to-carry laws are far less exacting than their New Jersey counterparts. Unlike New Jersey, Pennsylvania law is silent on the legality of openly carrying a firearm, making it de facto to do so in all places except Philadelphia. It is also a “shall issue” state. This means that while a person needs to obtain a license to carry a handgun, the granting authority (i.e., the sheriff or police chief) has no discretion to deny an applicant provided he or she meets the necessary character and fitness requirements. See 18 Pa. C.S. § 6109. Unlike New Jersey, there is no requirement that an applicant demonstrate “good cause” for the weapon. Instead, law enforcement has 45 days to investigate an applicant’s background to determine eligibility. See id. Moreover, and with the limited exception of commonsense places designated by statute as off-limits, including schools, correctional facilities, and courts, id. at §§ 912-913, 5122; 50 P.S. § 4605; et al., any employee with a license to carry may come to work with a gun concealed on his or her person.

While Pennsylvania’s right-to-carry laws are relatively liberal, there are no state laws that force an employer or business to allow or prohibit guns on its property. While 20 states have laws that regulate whether employees have the right to transport and store licensed, concealed weapons in their locked vehicles in an employer’s parking lot, the majority of states – including Pennsylvania – do not.  Without an express statute on point, courts generally give employers the right to control the workplace. As such, employers are free to impose policies allowing or restricting the possession of weapons in vehicles parked on company property and/or in the workplace.

In 2015, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed an employer’s efforts to control the workplace by enforcing its weapons restrictions policy. In Stewart v. FedEx Express, 114 A.3d 424 (Pa. Super. 2015), the Superior Court upheld the right of FedEx to terminate the plaintiff for carrying a handgun in the glove compartment of his personal vehicle while performing work for FedEx. Id. at 424. FedEx’s policy prohibits employees from having firearms or weapons on company property, in company vehicles or in company buildings, unless authorized by FedEx security. Id. at 426. In so holding, the Superior Court noted that Pennsylvania is an at-will state and rejected the plaintiff’s constitutional claim that he had an unrestricted “right to bear arms,” even at work, and reasoned that “neither the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, nor the Pennsylvania Constitution, bestows on any person the right to carry a concealed firearm or transport a loaded firearm in a vehicle.” Id. at 428-29. Moreover, the Court noted that Pennsylvania has no right-to-carry law that restricts employers from prohibiting firearms on their property or while performing work duties. Id. at 429.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey are ‘employment at-will’ states; meaning, employers may generally terminate an employment relationship at any time and for any reason. Therefore, employers in both states are free to terminate an employee for any reason regardless of whether there is a specific policy on point. Nevertheless, it is a good idea for employers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to follow FedEx’s example and take similar steps to control the workplace.

Pennsylvania employers in favor of guns in the workplace may impose policies relative to same. These policies should detail the type of weapons permitted in the workplace and in vehicles parked on company property, and state that the company policy is subject to the licensing requirements of state law. These policies should also set forth the employer’s expectations with respect to the handling and storage of weapons on company property and in the workplace. To limit any potential confusion with respect to the company’s expectations and what is and is not permissible, it is recommended that employers make their policies as detailed as possible.

New Jersey’s right-to-carry laws are so restrictive that is almost always unlawful for an employee to possess a firearm in the workplace. As such, most New Jersey employers cannot authorize their employees to possess a firearm in the workplace without violating state law. However, to avoid any ambiguity and as an added layer of protection from liability, New Jersey employers may also adopt policies to better control the workplace.

It is important for Pennsylvania employers opposed to the idea of guns and other weapons in the workplace take steps to further their interests. To that end, Pennsylvania employers may implement policies that prohibit employees from having firearms or weapons on company property, in company vehicles or in company buildings. Absent such policies, there is nothing prohibiting a properly licensed Pennsylvania employee from bringing his or her concealed gun to the workplace.

It is recommended that the policies adopted and implemented by employers opposed to guns and weapons in the workplace in both states clearly explain that all employees, including those with licenses to carry, are forbidden from having firearms or weapons on company property, in company vehicles, or in company buildings, unless expressly authorized by the employer. It is also a good idea for these policies to provide that violation of the company’s weapons policies is grounds for immediate termination, as it would make the process of terminating an employee for-cause much cleaner and could allow the employer to save on future litigation and unemployment benefits costs associated with the termination. This is because employees that are terminated for-cause are generally ineligible to receive unemployment benefits and will have a harder time asserting a meritorious wrongful termination lawsuit against their former employers.

Given this is a rapidly changing and developing area of the law, it is also suggested that employers charge someone in their human resources and/or compliance departments with staying current on the gun control regulations. Absent immunity, complying with a law that allows employees to bring concealed firearms to the employer’s property can increase legal risk. In contrast, noncompliance with a gun law can lead to civil liability or criminal penalties in some states. Therefore, it is important that employers stay apprised of the rapidly changing gun laws of each state in which they conduct business. The person charged with this responsibility should understand the impact the new gun control law might have on the business and recognize what, if any, changes in the law require an amendment to company policies.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact John McAvoy at [email protected].

Salary History Cannot Be Used To Justify Wage Gap

Posted on: April 10th, 2018

By: Rebecca J. Smith

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which heard the case of Rizo v. Fresno County Office of Education en banc last year, has changed the 9th Circuit’s position and found that an employee’s prior salary – either alone or in a combination of factors – cannot be used to justify paying women less than men in comparable jobs.

“The Equal Pay Act stands for a principle as simple as it is just:  men and women should receive equal pay for equal work regardless of sex” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the opinion.   The opinion clearly establishes that an employer cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees by relying on prior salary.

In the ruling made on Monday, April 09, 2018, the en banc panel overturned the earlier panel’s decision looking at the history of the act and indicating that Congress simply could not have intended to allow employers to rely on past discriminatory wages to justify continuing wage differentials.  One of the biggest issues, going forward after this decision will be whether negotiated salaries are included within the equal pay statutes.  Judge M. Margaret McKeown indicated in her concurring opinion that she was concerned about chilling voluntary discussions between employees or potential employees and employers when an employee is attempting to use prior salaries as a bargaining chip.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Rebecca Smith at [email protected].

Back Where We Started: Service Advisors Once Again Are Exempt From Federal Overtime Requirements

Posted on: April 3rd, 2018

By: Brad Adler & Michael Hill

After years of back and forth in the lowers courts, the Supreme Court has ruled that service advisors at auto dealerships are exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  It’s the rare case that goes to the Supreme Court twice.  But after taking the scenic route through the federal court system, the Supreme Court’s Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro decision finally has arrived and brought much-needed clarity to auto dealerships across the country.

As we have written in several previous blogs, the confusion began in 2011, when the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) suddenly (and without explanation) reversed its decades-old position that service advisors were exempt from the FLSA.  The text of the statute at issue provides that “salesman . . . primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” at covered dealerships are exempt.  Since the 1970s, courts and even the DOL itself took the position that a service advisor was such a “salesman.”  In 2011, however, the DOL threw a monkey wrench under the hood by issuing a new rule that “salesman” under the statute no longer would include a service advisor.

This ruling from the Supreme Court, however, applies a straightforward interpretation of the statute’s language and holds that a service advisor is a “salesman . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.”  According to Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the majority’s opinion, “servicing automobiles” includes more than just working underneath the hood of a car.  “Servicing” is a concept broad enough to encompass meeting with customers, listening to their concerns, suggesting or recommending certain repairs and maintenance, selling new accessories or replacement parts, following up with customers as services are performed, and explaining the repairs and maintenance work to customers when they come to pick up their vehicles.

The Encino Motorcars decision also brought back a special souvenir for employers in other industries.  In reversing the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court expressly rejected the oft-quoted principle that exemptions to the FLSA “should be construed narrowly.”  It now is the Supreme Court’s view that, because the FLSA does not actually say its exemptions should be interpreted narrowly, “there is no reason to give [them] anything other than a fair (rather than a ‘narrow’) interpretation.”  As there are over two dozen exemptions just to the overtime-pay requirement of the FLSA, Encino Motorcars may provide some ammunition for employers fighting exemption disputes in the future.

For questions about this case or how it may impact your business, or other questions or advice regarding wage and hour laws, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].