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Posts Tagged ‘DOL’

Here’s Your Tip Of The Day – Another Appellate Court Defers To DOL On Use Of 80/20 Rule For Tipped Employees

Posted on: September 24th, 2018

By: Brad Adler & Koty Newman

The Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Marsh v. J. Alexander’s, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 26387 (9th Cir. Sep. 18, 2018) is important for employers trying to navigate the FLSA and pay their tipped employees the correct amount.  The Ninth Circuit has joined the Eighth Circuit in deciding that the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) dual jobs regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 531.56(e) (a/k/a “80/20 rule”), and its interpretation found in the Wage and Hour Division’s Field Operations Handbook are entitled to judicial deference.  This affects what employers must pay their tipped employees in these jurisdictions.

Generally, the federal hourly minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  However, employers may legally pay their employees in tipped occupations, under federal law, as little as $2.13 per hour.  This is due to the FLSA’s tip credit provision, which permits employers to take a tip credit for employees in tipped occupations, such as serving or bartending.  The tip credit offsets the employer’s duty to pay the minimum wage to their tipped employees.  Even so, when a server’s tipped wages come up short of the hourly minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the employer has a duty to make up the difference.

But how much is an employer required to pay an employee when that that employee performs some tipped duties and some untipped duties?  With the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision, the wages that an employer must pay an employee who receives tips turns upon whether the employee’s untipped duties are related to the employee’s tipped duties, and how long the employee spends performing each of those duties.

In the case before the Ninth Circuit, Alec Marsh and thirteen other former servers and bartenders challenged their employer’s payment practices under the FLSA.  Plaintiffs alleged that their employers abused the FLSA’s tip credit provision in two ways.  Plaintiffs alleged that employers violated the provision by treating them as tipped employees when they performed work that was unrelated to serving or bartending, such as when they cleaned restrooms or washed windows. Further, plaintiffs alleged that it was a violation for their employers to treat them as tipped employees when they performed untipped tasks related to serving and bartending, such as filling salt and pepper shakers, when those tasks consumed an excess of twenty percent of their time worked during the workweek.

In the Ninth Circuit’s view, the alleged payment practices of plaintiffs’ employers – in essence, crediting an employee’s tips toward the employers’ obligation to pay the full minimum wage for a non-tipped occupation – effectively allowed the employers to treat their employees’ tips as payments to the employers rather than the employees, thereby minimizing the employers’ obligation to pay their employees the full minimum wage for time spent performing work in a non-tipped occupation.  Marsh, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 26387, at *6 & n.2.

The Ninth Circuit ultimately determined that this practice is disallowed.  The Ninth Circuit held that the DOL “foreclosed an employer’s ability to engage in this practice by promulgating a dual jobs regulation in 1967, 29 C.F.R. § 531.56(e), and subsequently interpreting that regulation in its 1988 Field Operations Handbook.”  Marsh v. J. Alexander’s, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 26387, at *6.  The Court concluded that both the regulation and the DOL’s interpretation of that regulation were entitled to deference.   This result aligns the Ninth Circuit with the Eighth Circuit and its decision in Fast v. Applebee’s Int’l, Inc., 638 F.3d 872 (8th Cir. 2011).

As a result of giving deference to the regulation and its interpretation, the Court concluded that Marsh “stated two claims for relief under the FLSA: first, that he is entitled to the full hourly minimum wage for the substantial time he spent completing related but untipped tasks, defined as more than 20% of his workweek; and second, that he is entitled to the same for time he spent on unrelated tasks.”  Marsh, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 26387, at *42.

If you believe that separating employees’ tasks and pay in this manner is unworkable, the Ninth Circuit would disagree.  The Court believes the system is workable because an employer may “keep track of time spent on related tasks by requiring employees to clock in any time spent rolling silverware or cleaning the restaurant before and after the restaurant closes or when business is slow.”  Marsh, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 26387, at *38-39.  Of course, it remains to be seen how the other appellate courts will deal with this issue, particularly in light of the arguments asserted in the lawsuit filed by a restaurant group in Texas that the 80/20 rule is invalid (see blog on Texas lawsuit).

Thus, practically speaking, an employer with tipped employees needs to pay careful attention to who is performing tasks unrelated to those tipped occupations, and who dedicates a substantial amount (more than twenty percent) of their working time to tasks that are untipped-yet-related to their tipped occupation.  Because now, payment of those employees is subject to both the DOL’s regulation and interpretation, at least in jurisdictions covered by the Eighth and Ninth Circuits.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Brad Adler at [email protected] or Koty Newman at [email protected].

DOL Guidance On No Fault Attendance Policies

Posted on: September 21st, 2018

By: Joyce Mocek

The Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division issued a new opinion letter on an employer’s no-fault attendance policy which effectively froze an employee’s attendance points that had accrued prior to taking the FMLA leave.  The DOL maintained that the no-fault attendance policy did not violate the FMLA if it was applied in a non-discriminatory manner, and applied consistently with other types of leave.

The FMLA prohibits employers from “interfering with, restraining, or denying” an employee’s exercise of FMLA rights, and prohibits employers from “discriminating or retaliating against an employee.. for having exercised or attempted to exercise FMLA rights.”  29 CFR 825.220.  In its opinion letter, the DOL noted that employees cannot accrue points for taking FMLA leave under a no-fault attendance policy.  Further, the FMLA does not entitle an employee to superior benefits simply because they take FMLA leave.

In the opinion letter, the DOL advised that since the employee’s number of accrued points remained frozen during the FMLA leave the employee neither lost a benefit that accrued prior to taking the leave, nor accrued any additional benefit which he or she would not have been otherwise entitled.  The DOL thus advised that this policy would not violate the FMLA.  However, the DOL noted that if the employer counted other types of leave (i.e. active service) under its no-fault policy, then the employer may be discriminating against employees that take FMLA leave as this inconsistency would violate the FMLA.

Employers should be mindful of this recent DOL opinion letter guidance and review their no-fault attendance policy to ensure compliance and consistency with other leave policies.

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

The Side Work Struggle: Nonprofit Restaurant Group Challenges The 80/20 Tip Credit Rule In Texas Federal Court

Posted on: September 19th, 2018

By: John McAvoy

On July 6, 2018, a nonprofit restaurant advocacy group filed suit against the U.S. Department of Labor in Texas Federal Court challenging the rule that governs the compensation of tipped employees; specifically, the DOL’s “80/20 Tip Credit Rule” or “20% Rule” set forth in the 2012 revision to the DOL’s Field Operations Handbook. Restaurant Law Center v. U.S. Dept. of Labor, No. 18-cv-567 (W.D. Tex. July 6, 2018).

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”), employers may pay a “tipped employee”—i.e., “any employee engaged in an occupation in which he customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips”—a cash wage of $2.13 per hour (or more) so long as the employer satisfies certain statutory criteria, including that the employee’s tips plus the cash wage equal the minimum wage. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 203(m), 203(t). That means tips are credited against – and satisfy a portion of – employers’ obligation to pay minimum wage. Congress has noted occupations in which workers qualify for this so-called tip credit: “waiters, bellhops, waitresses, countermen, busboys, service bartenders, etc.” S. Rep. No. 93-690, at 43 (Feb. 22, 1974).

The FLSA tip credit is not available to employers in all situations. Rather, the 80/20 Tip Credit Rule limits the use of a tip credit wage where workers spend more than 20% of their time performing secondary work not directly related to tip-generating activities. Such secondary work is universally known throughout the restaurant industry as “side work.”

Side work encompasses any and all secondary tasks restaurant employees must complete in addition to their primary responsibilities waiting tables, expediting food, bussing tables or tending bar. Side work generally includes things like rolling silverware, restocking glasses and various other items, cleaning and/or any other behind the scenes tasks necessary to ensure that restaurant operations run smoothly.

The 80/20 Tip Credit Rule provides that if a tipped employee spends more than 20% of his or her time during a workweek performing side work, i.e. duties that are not directly related to generating tips, the employer may not take a tip credit for the time spent performing those duties.

Tipped employees and employers throughout the industry share a deep-seated aversion to the 80/20 Tip Credit Rule for three (3) main reasons. First, the Rule is unclear as to what is, and what is not, an allegedly “tip generating” duty. Second, side work varies from restaurant to restaurant and shift to shift and is subject to unpredictable external conditions; most notably, the number of patrons that dine in the restaurant on any given day. For example, a bartender working the Saturday night shift in a chain restaurant may spend 95% of his or her shift serving customers, and a mere 5% on side work. However, that same bartender may open the restaurant the following day (Sunday morning) and spend 40% of his or her shift on side work from the night before, and only 60% serving customers. Third, tipped employees do not generally log their hours separately by task. As a result, tipped employees and their employers have struggled to apply the Rule. Tipped employees have to ask themselves whether they are working for less than minimum wage, and employers have to constantly wonder whether they are in compliance with the current state of the 80/20 Rule.

These issues, among others, have spawned several lawsuits challenging the 80/20 Tip Credit Rule. For example, the plaintiff in Restaurant Law Center contends, among other things, that the DOL “surreptitiously and improperly” created the 80/20 Tip Credit Rule, rather than abiding by the rulemaking process, thereby violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

Restaurant Law Center is worth mentioning because there is a split emerging among the circuit courts as to the 80/20 Tip Credit Rule’s validity. In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the validity of the Rule. However, in September 2017, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that the DOL effectively imposed new recordkeeping guidelines on employers to determine which tasks are tip generating and which are not.  In doing so, the Ninth Circuit held that the DOL had created a new regulation inconsistent with the “dual jobs” regulation. Shortly after the Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel issued this opinion, the Ninth Circuit granted a rehearing before the full panel. Although the case was re-argued in March 2018, the full panel has yet to issue its opinion. If the Ninth Circuit upholds its prior decision, or the Fifth Circuit (where the July 6, 2018 lawsuit is pending) ultimately invalidates the 80/20 Tip Credit Rule on appeal, there will be a split among the federal appeals courts, opening the doors for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the validity and enforceability of the 80/20 Tip Credit Rule.

Needless to say, the outcome of these cases will have serious implications to the restaurant industry in all jurisdictions throughout the country.

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

Don’t Get Bitten… Are You In Compliance With DOL’s COBRA Continuation Coverage Election Notice?

Posted on: August 21st, 2018

By: Pamela Everett

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida has certified a class action suit against Marriott International, Inc. for allegations that it failed to provide required notices of eligible terminated employees’ right to continued health care coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA).  The law suit was filed by Alina Vazquez, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, who alleges violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), as amended by COBRA.  The Plaintiff asserted that after her termination as a covered employee and participant in Marriott’s health plan she was not provided with adequate notice of her rights to continued coverage under COBRA thus causing her to fail to enroll and incur excessive medical bills.

Marriott’s  plan provided medical benefits to employees and their beneficiaries, and is an employee welfare benefit plan within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1) and a group health plan within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1167(1).  COBRA requires the plan sponsor of each group health plan normally employing more than 20 employees on a typical business day during the preceding year to provide each qualified beneficiary who would lose coverage under the plan as a result of a qualifying event to elect, within the election period, continuation coverage under the plan.  This notice must be in accordance with the regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Labor. To facilitate compliance with these notice obligations, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has issued a Model COBRA Continuation Coverage Election Notice which is included in the Appendix to 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4.

Plaintiff alleged that, “Marriott authored and disseminated a notice that was not appropriately completed, deviating from the model form in violation of COBRA’s requirements, which failed to provide Plaintiff notice of all required coverage information and hindered Plaintiff’s ability to obtain continuation coverage”.  The  Model Notice also requires that notice shall be written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant.   Specifically, in her suit the Plaintiff asserted that Marriott’s Notice violated the following requirements:

a. The Notice violates 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(i) because it fails to provide the name, address and telephone number of the party responsible under the plan for the administration of continuation coverage benefits. Nowhere in the notice provided to Plaintiff is any party or entity clearly and unambiguously identified as the Plan Administrator.

b. The Notice violates 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(iv) because it fails to provide all required explanatory information. There is no explanation that a legal guardian may elect continuation coverage on behalf of a minor child, or a minor child who may later become a qualified beneficiary.

c. The Notice violates 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(vi) because it fails to provide an explanation of the consequences of failing to elect or waiving continuation coverage, including an explanation that a qualified beneficiary’s decision whether to elect continuation coverage will affect the future rights of qualified beneficiaries to portability of group health coverage, guaranteed access to individual health coverage, and special enrollment under part 7 of title I of the Act, with a reference to where a qualified beneficiary may obtain additional information about such rights; and a description of the plan’s procedures for revoking a waiver of the right to continuation coverage before the date by which the election must be made.”

In her certification of the class, U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven also rejected Marriott’s argument that Vazquez’s claims were not typical because Vazquez could not understand English, could not  have understood the notice once it had been translated and could not afford COBRA continuation coverage.  Currently there is no requirement that the Notice be provided in any language other than English.  Perhaps this suit will change that requirement in a manner similar to some of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Most importantly, this case highlights the importance of ensuring that your company complies with DOL regulations, and to the extent practicable, utilizes the forms provided.

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

Coffee, Water, Less Than 20 Minutes

Posted on: June 19th, 2018

SCOTUS KICKS THE CAN ON SHORT BREAKS COMPENSATION

By: John McAvoy

On June 11, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to entertain the appeal of a Pennsylvania employer that could have resolved the emerging split of authority between the federal appellate courts and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) as to the compensability of employees’ short rest breaks.

In American Future Systems, Inc. d/b/a Progressive Business Publications v. R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, the Secretary of Labor filed suit against Progressive Business Publications, a company that publishes and distributes business publications and sells them through its sales representatives, as well as the company’s owner, alleging they violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by paying their salespeople an hourly wage and bonuses based on their number of sales per hour while they were logged onto the computer at their workstations, and by not paying them if they were logged off for more than 90 seconds.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania previously found that the employer’s policy had violated the FLSA, relying on a DOL regulation which states that “[r]est periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes, are common in industry.  They promote the efficiency of the employee and are customarily paid for as working time.  They must be counted as hours worked.”  In so holding, the District Court found that the employer was liable for at least $1.75 million in back wages and damages.

On appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the employer argued that that it provided “flex time” rather than “breaks,” which allowed workers to clock out whenever they wanted, for any reason.  In other words, that the employees were not “working” after they logged off of their computers since they could do anything they wanted, including leaving the office.  The appellate court rejected this argument, reasoning that to dock the pay of employees who can’t manage a bathroom sprint is “absolutely contrary to the FLSA,” and affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Third Circuit’s reliance on DOL regulation was contrary to the holdings of some of the other circuit courts which opted to assess the circumstances of the break in lieu of interpreting the DOL regulation as a bright-line rule that fails to take into consideration the facts of a particular situation.

The employer asked the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify how compensability for breaks should be determined.  Citing the circuit split, the employer posited that the question of break pay should be determined by assessing the circumstances of the break, rather than adopting the DOL regulation as a bright-line rule.  In its reply brief, the DOL fervently defended its regulations and denied the existence of the alleged circuit split, arguing that “hours worked [are] not limited to the time an employee actually performs his or her job duties.”  Unfortunately, this remains an issue for another day as the Supreme Court refused to hear the case and/or resolve the alleged split.

Absent a decision from the Supreme Court to the contrary, employers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are bound by the Third Circuit’s decision. As such, employers in these states must continue to comply with DOL regulations with respect to the compensability of short breaks.

Fortunately, the applicable DOL regulations are designed to protect employers’ rights. For starters, the regulations recognize that meal periods serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks and, as such, are not compensable.  Second, an employer need not count an employee’s unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer’s rules, and any extension of the break will be punished.

Although an employer will have to compensate an employee who repeatedly takes unauthorized breaks lasting less than 20 minutes in order to comply with the Third Circuit’s ruling and the applicable DOL regulations, the employer is nevertheless free to discipline the employee for such indiscretions by whatever means the employer deems appropriate, including termination.

Prudent employers should prepare themselves to address such issues through smart planning and proper training of employees, including managers, supervisors and HR personnel to ensure the employer’s break, discipline, and termination policies and procedures comply with all applicable DOL regulations.

Want to know whether your company’s break, discipline, and termination policies and procedures comply with DOL regulations? Let me help. Please call or email me (215.789.4919; [email protected]).